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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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  • 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, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award; and the New York Times bestseller The Accursed. 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.

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1973-1982
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