Joyce Carol Oates
Published: June 24th, 2015
Joyce Carol Oates is an acclaimed American author whose accolades include a National Book Award, two O. Henry Awards, and the National Humanities Medal. Two of her novels were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She currently teaches at Princeton University as the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities for their creative writing program.
Howl: What is your writing process like, i.e. time of day, pen vs typing...?
Carol Oates: I generally take notes and sketch scenes in pen, then transfer to the computer / word processor. I do a good deal of printing out and "reassembling" material to create a narrative that is not always continuous.
Howl: How do you edit your work?
Carol Oates: I am continually revising, rewriting. Virtually every paragraph is written numerous times.
Howl: Why do you feel that writing is your creative medium of choice?
Carol Oates: Why? - it just is. Using language is delightful to me, perhaps not unlike the way a musician feels about her special instrument. (My "musical instrument" is the piano, actually.)
Howl: What do you look for when reading for enjoyment and are there any writers out there we should keep our eyes peeled for?
Carol Oates: I am always reading, but not clear if "enjoyment" is my primary aim; rather more the excitement of discovering something new, or preparing for a review-essay for New York Review of Books. [There are] Too many promising younger writers, among them a number of my own former students, to name...
Howl: What advice would you have to budding writers, potentially in high school?
Carol Oates: Just read widely, and deeply. Choose a writer of substance and read all of his / her work including a biography if one is available. There is an inclination to be superficial today, so one should make an effort to go deeper. Actually it is not hard.
Howl: What responsibility do you feel the writer might have toward the reader and, perhaps, vice versa?
Carol Oates: "Responsibility" is a vague concept. Possibly a publisher has a responsibility to publish only good work, but most writers try their best, and do not let anything go unless they feel it is the best they can do. There are many sorts of readers and some are more serious and committed than others. I know some people who never give up on a novel, or a movie, but will continue to the very end even if they are not enjoying it. I am not quite that way myself...
Howl: "The Gravedigger's Daughter" clearly has some inspiration from your own family past. When writing something with autobiographical roots, how do you feel about its future perceptions by family and is that taken into account?
Carol Oates: I did not undertake this novel, which is a very emotional experience for me, until my parents had passed away. However, there is nothing in it that would really upset or offend since the characters have been extremely fictionalized...the son, based upon my father, is very unlike my father; and the protagonist, based upon my grandmother, is very different from her. It is rather more the situations that engaged me, that shimmer with the possibility of being representative, not merely topic or personal.