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The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates

Cover of The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates

The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates

1973-1982
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The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, edited by Greg Johnson, offers a rare glimpse into the private thoughts of this extraordinary writer, focusing on excerpts written during one of the most productive decades of Oates's long career. Far more than just a daily account of a writer's writing life, these intimate, unrevised pages candidly explore her friendship with other writers, including John Updike, Donald Barthelme, Susan Sontag, Gail Godwin, and Philip Roth. It presents a fascinating portrait of the artist as a young woman, fully engaged with her world and her culture, on her way to becoming one of the most respected, honored, discussed, and controversial figures in American letters.

The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, edited by Greg Johnson, offers a rare glimpse into the private thoughts of this extraordinary writer, focusing on excerpts written during one of the most productive decades of Oates's long career. Far more than just a daily account of a writer's writing life, these intimate, unrevised pages candidly explore her friendship with other writers, including John Updike, Donald Barthelme, Susan Sontag, Gail Godwin, and Philip Roth. It presents a fascinating portrait of the artist as a young woman, fully engaged with her world and her culture, on her way to becoming one of the most respected, honored, discussed, and controversial figures in American letters.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    1973

    A journal as an experiment in consciousness. An attempt to record not just the external world, and not just the vagrant, fugitive, ephemeral "thoughts" that brush against us like gnats, but the refractory and inviolable authenticity of daily life: daily-ness, day-ness, day-lightness, the day's eye of experience.

    When Joyce Carol Oates began her journal on New Year's Day, 1973, she was at the height of her early fame. Only weeks before, she had been featured in a cover story for Newsweek magazine, and after the appearance of her National Book Award-winning novel them (1969) and countless award-winning short stories, she had become one of the most widely discussed and controversial authors in the country, alternately praised and criticized for her violent themes, her turbulent artistic vision, and her immense productivity.

    Her journal entries for this year, however, evince little regard for fame or the other trappings of literary celebrity. Instead, they show her sharp focus on the inner life, especially in the wake of a brief mystical experience she'd had in London in December of 1970, in which she had seemed to "transcend" her physical being. This crucial event in her life caused her to meditate on mysticism in general, to seek out writings on the subject, to visit the Esalen Institute and the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California, and even to consider writing a "mystical novel." During this year she is immediately concerned, however, with recording her work on new stories and on her novel in progress, How Lucien Florey Died, and Was Born; and with discussing her dreams, her reading, her travels, and her teaching.

    This typically productive year was shadowed by the hostility shown toward Oates by a Detroit resident, here known as "A.K.," who remained angry over Oates's refusal to rig a positive review of his first novel in an influential publication; he even resorted to "stalking" her at the annual Modern Language Association convention at the end of the year. She was also troubled by the recurrence of a lifelong physical problem, a heart condition known as tachycardia. Even these negatives, however, provided opportunities for Oates to consider philosophical and personal patterns in her life experience by which she learned and grew.

    At this time, Oates was living with her husband, the critic and editor Raymond J. Smith, in Windsor, Ontario, where she and he had been professors of English since 1968. Their riverside home was, according to Smith, "a highly romantic setting," and in her journal Oates often took note of her natural surroundings and of the ceaselessly flowing river as an emblem of human experience.. . .

    January 1, 1973....The uncanny calm of freezing, layered skies. Clouds opaque and twisted like muscles. Idyllic on the river, "unreal." On this New Year's Day I am thinking of another winter, three years ago, in London, when my life—the "field" of perceptions and memories that constitutes "Joyce Carol Oates"—was funneled most violently into a point: dense, unbearable, gravity like Jupiter's. Another second and I would have been destroyed. But another second—and it was over.... Query: Does the individual exist? What is the essential, necessary quality of (sheer) existence....
    [...]

    A journal as an experiment in consciousness. An attempt to record not just the external world, and not just the vagrant, fugitive, ephemeral "thoughts" that brush against us like gnats, but the refractory and inviolable authenticity of daily life: daily-ness, day-ness, day-lightness, the day's eye of experience.

    The challenge: to record without falsification, without understatement or "drama," the...

About the Author-
  • Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 6, 2007
    Writing is... a drug, sweet, irresistible, and exhausting,” writes Oates in this fascinating and significant record of an artist's life. She was 34 when she began this “experiment in consciousness,” which follows the gestation and writing of many of her most important works. Oates, readers come to realize, is intensely disciplined, exquisitely sensitive, unflaggingly—almost morbidly—introspective, concerned with philosophical issues, attuned to mysticism and acutely responsive to the natural world. Although she abhors being described as prolific, she writes daily, with feverish energy; she herself uses the word “obsessed.” If a day or two passes when she isn't writing, she feels “profound worthlessness.” Teaching, she reveals, is a vital component of her well-being, although it often leaves her exhausted. The journal records her relationships with contemporary authors, including Philip Roth, Susan Sontag, John Updike, Gail Godwin, Stanley Elkin, John Gardner and Donald Barthelme. She is candid about her “intensely” intimate marriage to Raymond Smith, her lack of maternal instinct and the hours she spends at the piano, an obsession almost equal to her writing. Overall, this journal immerses the reader in a complex, searching, imaginative personality—an artist who continues to refine her search for literary expression. 16 pages of b&w photos.

  • Library Journal

    "Fascinating."

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    HarperCollins
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  • Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period. Please see Important Notice about Copyrighted Materials for terms applicable to this content.

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1973-1982
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