| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Joyce Carol Oates
Critic, teacher, short story writer, poet, playwright,
novelist, editor, and publisher, Joyce Carol Oates is an artist of amazing
versatility, productivity, and range. She has written more than twenty novels
and hundreds of shorter works; several of her plays have been produced
off-Broadway; at least two of her stories have been made into films. Writing
about men and women struggling for existence in “Eden Valley,” a region
strikingly like her own birthplace in upstate New York, Oates has been
variously classified as a realist, a naturalist, a “gothic” artist, and “the
dark lady of American Letters.” She has won many prizes, including the National
Book Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an O. Henry award for Special Achievement,
and an award from the Lotos Club. Oates has been elected to the National Institute
of Arts and Letters. While she calls herself a feminist, she prefers to be
considered “a woman who writes.” She has a wide readership: her work is as
likely to be found on an academic syllabus as on the best-seller list.
has often been considered a realist in the tradition of Dreiser; she is indeed
a social critic, focusing on contemporary events and issues in fiction and
essays. But she is also testing classical myths and established literary
conventions beyond the limits of any one genre. Curiously, as if to expand her
own boundaries, Oates has published fiction—a series of harrowing psychological
mysteries—under a pseudonym, Rosamond Smith.
Oates is best understood as an artist in residence—in the largest sense of that
term. She studied at Syracuse and then in graduate school at the University of
Wisconsin, and has taught literature and writing at Detroit and Windsor. As a
scholar, she has written several collections of literary criticism, including
New Heaven, New Earth, (Woman) Writer, and The Profane Art. She is on the
Advisory Board of The Kenyon Review; she is a frequent reviewer of contemporary
literature. Currently she is Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of
English at Princeton, where she lives and writes and works at the press she
founded with her husband, Professor Raymond Smith.
draws upon this complex and varied background in her fiction. In one way or
another, all of Oates’s characters struggle to find a place in a changing and
often threatening world. In her early novels With Shuddering Fall and A Garden
of Earthly Delights, she writes about rural America with its migrants, ragged
prophets, and automobile junkyards; in contrast, Expensive People mocks the
suburbanite, and her novel them dramatizes the violent lives of the urban poor.
Wonderland is a novel of lost generations; the hero barely escapes from the
gunfire of his crazed father; as a father himself, he is in danger of losing
his daughter in the turbulence of the sixties. Childwold is a lyrical and experimental
portrait of an artist as a young woman. Oates satirizes doctors, lawyers,
preachers; she casts an especially critical eye at professors and resident
artists in Unholy Loves, Solstice, American Appetites, and Marya: A Life.
by the literary past and the work of other writers, she has also tried her hand
at “imitations”—reimagining stories of Joyce, Thoreau, James, Chekhov, and
Kafka. Oates produced a group of novels which represent her own imaginative
view of nineteenth-century conventions, with particular emphasis on the
constraints placed upon women both as writers and as hapless heroines.
she is also inscribing the history of the present, memorializing the paranoia
of the fifties in You Must Remember This, dramatizing explosive American race
relations in Because It is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart, and publishing
essays on boxing which have won her infrequent spots as a ringside commentator.
Carol Oates may be best known for her short stories, frequently included in the
O. Henry annual Prize Selection and widely anthologized. Like her novels, many
of her stories are experiments in form and character. Most focus on the
personality at risk: on seemingly ordinary people whose lives are vulnerable to
powerful threats from external society and the inner self.
Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is one of these. A frightening view of
“coming of age” written in 1967, the story has appeared in several collections,
including The Wheel of Love; it has also been adapted for the screen (Smooth
Talk, 1986). Its central character, Connie, is a young woman fatally at ease in
the world of adolescent ritual: high school flirtations, hamburger hangouts and
drive-ins, movies and fan magazines; her dreams are shaped by popular song lyrics.
She seems destined for a conventional future very much like her mother’s,
evident in their half-affectionate bickering. Yet as Oates deftly and gradually
reveals, this sense of security is at best illusory; even the familiar language
of popular song becomes the agency of seduction, making Connie the helpless
victim of a grotesque and demonic caller she mistakes for a “friend.” Asking
the question posed by the sixties balladeer and youth culture cult figure, Bob
Dylan (to whom this story is dedicated), “Where Are You Going, Where Have You
Been?” powerfully represents the complex, open-ended literary project of author
Joyce Carol Oates.
Eileen T. Bender|
In the Heath Anthology
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
By the North Gate
With Shuddering Fall
A Garden of Earthly Delights
The Wheel of Love
Marriages and Infidelities
New Heaven, New Earth
A Bloodsmoor Romance
The Profane Art
Marya: A Life
You Must Remember This
Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart
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Declaration of Independence
A Salon.com article by Oates on Jane Eyre.
An extensive resource on Oates including a biography, images, a discussion group, and much more.
Joyce Carol Oates reflects on writing
An article from the Yale Daily News.
New York State Writers Institute
A short biography and introduction to Oates, with a link to a reading in audio format.
New York Times Featured Author
A compilation of all NY Times pieces on Oates, including some interviews in audio format.