Joyce Carol Oates

Portrait Joyce Carol Oates
© Dustin Cohan

Joyce Carol Oates was born in Lockport, New York in 1938 and grew up in the agricultural community of Millersport. She started reading at a young age and considers Lewis Carroll’s »Alice in Wonderland« her most formative reading experience. As a teenager, she got to know the works of Fjodor Dostojewski, the Brontë sisters, William Faulkner, Henry David Thoreau, and Ernest Hemingway, which undoutably influenced her own future writing. She began writing her own texts at the age of 14. Thanks to a scholarship, Oates began studying English and Philosophy in Syracuse and at the University of Wisconsin in 1956, earning a Bachelor of Arts in 1960 and a Master of Arts in 1961. She destroyed all of the first novels she wrote during her studies. After winning a short story competition at the age of 19, Oates released her first volume of short prose, »By the North Gate«, in 1963.

She published her first novel, »With Shuddering Fall« (1964), at age 26. Since then she has evolved into a versatile and important author unparalleled in contemporary American literature. She has written a large number of novels, as well as plays, short stories, short prose, poetry, and essays – some of which have been published under the pseudonyms Rosamond Smith or Lauren Kelly. Her work tends to focus on socially critical topics as well as on fantasy. »The Guardian« sums up her literary work by stating that she is »A writer of extraordinary strengths…she has dealt consistently with what is probably the great American theme – the quest for the creation of self…Her great subject, naturally, is love.«, Additionally, writing in »The Nation«, Henry Louis Gates Jr. stated that »A future archeologist equipped only with her oeuvre could easily piece together the whole of postwar America.« She has been a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature many years in a row. The awards she has received include the National Book Award for the novel »them« (1969), the O. Henry Award, the National Humanities Medal, the Jerusalem Prize, and the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca for her life’s work. Oates has also been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize on several occasions.

Oates taught at the University of Detroit Mercy between 1961 and 1967 and took up a professorship at the University of Windsor in Ontario in 1968. Together with Raymond J. Smith, she founded the Canadian literary magazine »The Ontario Review« in 1974, whose mission it was to bring together the literary and artistic culture of the United States and Canada. She moved to Princeton, New Jersey, in 1978 and taught creative writing at Princeton University from 1987 to 2014. She has been teaching at the University of California Berkeley since 2016.