Saturday, June 16, 2018

Quote of the Day (Joyce Carol Oates, on Memoirs and Elderly Parents)

“Nothing is more offensive [in a memoir] than an adult child exposing his or her elderly parents to the appalled fascination of strangers.”— Joyce Carol Oates, The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age (2015)

Born on this day 80 years ago in rural Lockport, NY, Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most astonishingly prolific writers in American literature. I’m not talking about just the 40 novels she has produced, but all the other genres in which she has dabbled: short stories, plays, essays, poetry, and yes, memoirs. 

At her peak, in the 1960s and 1970s, Oates was coming out with three books a year. And all of this while teaching at Princeton University! It’s enough to make someone like me, who feels lucky at points even to post daily on my blog, deeply envious.

I still vividly remember the Oates cover story in Newsweek back in December 1972, an era when an author achieving that distinction in the newsweekly or rival Time constituted a very big deal indeed. Back then, Newsweek critic Walter Clemons hailed her as “perhaps the most significant novelist to have emerged in the United States in the last decade.” 

It is hard to believe that she already had a decade of writing under her belt at that point. It’s equally hard to think of her still sticking to her routine (and even putting her thoughts out on Twitter!) at an age when most people have slackened off.

The issue raised by Oates in the "Quote of the Day" led me to look up her own parental status, to see if she might have had a child who might reveal family secrets. She does not, though she has addressed, on her Twitter feed, her childlessness: "Often asked why no children  and now I have the answer: to be spared ‘math anxiety’ helping w/ homework.”

(Photograph ©Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 4.0 at the 2014 Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas, Oct. 25, 2014.)

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