This past Sunday, Oates received an honorary degree from Brandeis University and spoke with Dan Snyder, Arts Editor for the university newspaper, The Justice:
Many female authors find themselves pigeonholed as "women writers," especially when their novels and short stories are generally focused on female protagonists and their perspectives. Fortunately, Joyce Carol Oates does not find herself in such a position. Oates' works have garnered much critical praise throughout her prolific, decade-spanning career, saving her from being grouped with other female writers whose work is considered less universal. Over the past 50 years, Oates has received Pulitzer Prizes, a National Book Award and a spot in Oprah's book club....
"It is a coincidence that I will be receiving a distinguished degree from Brandeis at about the time that my novel of melancholy and loss of my 'Jewish' heritage has been published. Since my great-grandparents chose to live without religion or any acknowledgment of their background, my grandmother had no religion, no tradition and no 'history;' her own son did not know of his Jewish background, nor did anyone else in our family. Yet I had long been intrigued by the seeming mystery of both my parents' backgrounds, so, typically, given that time in our American history, the early 1900s, shrouded in obscurity and the upheaval of families."As you can see from the picture showing my two shelves of Joyce Carol Oates books (something over 80 of them now), I'm under her spell. I will, however, warn anyone not familiar with her work that her fiction tends to be dark and, at times, a bit depressing and filled with despair. She believes that the everyday world, especially for women, can be a very violent and dangerous place and that the violence, when it occurs, often springs up suddenly when a woman becomes too complacent about her surroundings and those around her. Joyce Carol Oates is not in the business of providing "happy endings" to her readers but, if you want to add some dark realism to your reading list, she is the master.
Although Oates is known for her captivating novels and short fiction, she has also published works of poetry, young adult fiction, drama, essays and criticism. Besides The Gravedigger's Daughter, the ever-prolific writer is also currently working two other books in less specific genres. One is what she calls the first installment of her journal, covering the years 1972 through 1983, to be published next October. Oates' other upcoming work is "a difficult-to-classify book titled WILD NIGHTS! Five Gothic Portraits." Oates described it as consisting of "prose pieces imagining the 'last days' in the lives of Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway."
Note to my fellow book snoops: click on the photo to get a larger view of the titles. You'll spot some duplicates because I have a few ARCs and the like among the first editions on the shelf. The first shelf holds Oates novels, in the order in which they were written, and the second shelf does the same for her short stories, essays, plays and criticism. My collection, believe it or not, is far from being a complete one.