Five Questions with Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of thirty eight story collections and fifty five novels, including the critically acclaimed Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? and Blonde. Her list of accolades includes five Pulitzer shortlists, the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. Her most recent novel, The Man Without a Shadow, was published in January.

She is currently the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has also taught in the MFA program at New York University—where she was my fiction workshop instructor for a semester.

You can read her Paris Review interview here. And here is a video of Oates writing in her home in Princeton, New Jersey.

— Bruna Dantas Lobato

1. Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

As a child I “wrote”—really, just scribbles— and “illustrated” many tablet-stories, mostly about cats & chickens.  (we lived on a farm.)  this enterprise began before I had learned to write & continued for years afterward.

2. What is your favorite place to write? Would you describe it for us?

at any window, with a beautiful view.  at the moment I am sitting in a window in a house on Panoramic Hill, Berkeley with a view of San Francisco & Bay in the distance; I can even see the Golden Gate Bridge.  in New York City, when we sublet an apartment in the NYU Silver Towers, my desk was facing a window that looked south from the 24th floor; I had many lovely hours working there. I am not one of those persons who require a blank wall to stimulate their imaginations….  much of my time is spent day-dreaming, gazing out a window.  this is bliss!

3. Do you keep a diary?

Not now, but I used to religiously keep a journal.  This was phased out at about the time email became popular.

4. You're known as the queen of Twitter. What do you appreciate about the tweet as a form?

(I was not aware of this!  I have few followers set beside the popular tweeters who have millions of followers…) 140 characters is an ideal length for expressing succinct thoughts, posing riddles, speculating about philosophical issues, recommending books, films, cable series…  it is a kind of continuous journal in public but what is most engaging, for me, is the quality of the Twitter accounts which I follow, now about 70. these range from literary subjects to feminist, animal rights, & civil liberties accounts.

5. What was the last book you loved?

This is a tricky question.  I can say that the last book I admired quite a bit, though without loving it, is a new novel I have just reviewed for the New York Times Book Review, which I can’t disclose because the review won’t be published for several weeks. However, I did much admire Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me: A Letter to My Son.




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