Joyce Carol Oates: the Author of Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been

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Image your grandmother, little ol’ grandma on twitter. Tweeting her heart away. That is Joyce Carol Oates. However, she wasn’t always the little old lady on twitter. She’s a writer, an editor, a playwright, a professor, etc. Throughout her life, Joyce Carol Oates has gone through events that have strengthened her love for writing. Whether at school, through her teaching or her marriages. She is always doing what she loves.

Born in Lockport, New York on June 16, 1938, Joyce Carol Oates has always had writing in her heart. From a young age, she was so drawn to reading. Her grandmother, whom she was very close with , gifted her Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She claimed the book to be “the greatest treasure of my childhood, and the most profound literary influence of my life.” Claiming “This was love at first sight!”(Wikipedia) Her grandmother also gifted her a typewriter at the age of fourteen. This one gift is what started it all. She began writing away with influences from, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Henry David Thoreau. She started to “consciously training herself, 'writing novel after novel’ throughout high school and college” (Johnson). 

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Moving around schools in her teen years, she graduating from Williamsville South High School in 1956, where she worked for her school newspaper. Being the first to graduate high school, and continue her education in her family,she attended Syracuse University. She was so engaged in the school, joining sororities, winning awards and scholarships. Oates found Syracuse “‘a very exciting place academically and intellectually,' and trained herself by 'writing novel after novel and always throwing them out when I completed them’” (Phillips). Graduating Syracuse as valedictorian in 1960, she decided to further her degree in English. She attended University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961, where she earned her masters, and Rice University getting a Ph.D.

After marrying her first husband, Raymond J. Smith, in 1962 and graduating from Rice, she became a full time writer. Some of her stories were based upon her experiences living in Detroit with her husband. Her novel Them , winner of U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1970, talked about the Detroit struggles of quality of life and happiness. Or sometimes she would listen to her surroundings for inspiration. In her short story, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? , she took inspiration from the events of a serial killer named, The Pied Piper of Tucson.

She began her teaching career in 1962, at the University of Detroit. Then in 1968, at the University of Windsor in Canada. “In 1978, Oates moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where she continues to teach in Princeton University’s creative writing program; she and her husband also operated a small press and published a literary magazine, The Ontario Review” (Johnson.) During this scholarly time period, Oates was able to put out two to three books a year. After her husband died in 2008, her work with The Ontario Review had come to an end. In 2014, Joyce Carol Oates had retired from teaching. However, continues to pick up a few classes to teach creative writing courses at U.C. Berkeley, Stanford University, New York University, and Princeton University.

Oates has achieved so much in her lifetime, and continues to till this day. From her youngest age, she has been recognized for her works. As a teen, she won the Scholastic Art and Writing Award. “ At the age of 19, she won the 'college short story’ contest sponsored by Mademoiselle” (Wikipedia.) This led her to getting more of her work published by Mademoiselle. She also landed some work with them doing book reviews. She has won the O.Henry award twice, Rea Award for the Short Story, and PEN/ Malamud Award for Excellence in the Art of the Short Story. This has claimed her a master in short story writing. Her most resent award was the Jerusalem Prize, Lifetime Achievement. This was earned with her stories about human freedom. These are just some of the notable awards that she has received in her years, that prove her writing to be honored.

Coming to the present, Oates loves to have her voice heard. She is constantly on twitter arguing on politics and has had a very strong voice against President Trump. Yet, she has also managed to get herself in trouble with Islamaphobic tweets. She stated, “Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed & rape is epidemic – Egypt – natural to inquire: what's the predominant religion?” (Oates, Twitter) Receiving loads of backlash, considering she has converted to atheism. No amount of criticism will stop her.

At this point in time, Joyce Carol Oates is in her 80’s. She got remarried in 2009, to neuroscientist Charles Gross. She continues to tweet everyday with stories that spark her interest and teaches few creative writing classes. But no matter where she is, she is always writing. With the influences she had in her life she is sure to inspire other with her work too.

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