Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates read from her new novel The Accursed last night at Skylight Books in Los Feliz. She spoke quite a bit before and after the actual reading, first on domestic realism and privilege in early American novels, then on her writing process. Oates commented that most of the early “great American” male novelists (Melville, Hawthorne, etc.) barely mention women, that their stories don’t reveal much about the way people actually lived in their time, yet the much-denigrated “women’s fiction” almost act as historical documents, illustrating what it was like to live, give birth, and die during the 18th century. She noted that even Shakespeare was a great dramatist—that his stories were all about the action.

She went on to share that she’s been working on her latest book—one of historical fiction—since 1983. “There are many ways to work on your novel,” she said. “It’s so nice every day to have something to work on, whether it’s researching, editing small parts of your story, reworking your outline—it’s all part of working on your novel.” She said she’d been saving newspaper clippings and library research and tucking it away for years for this project. I just had to share this with other writers who might be heartened by the thought. I urge my students to “go where writers go,” meaning if you want to be a writer, it helps to know what other writers are doing and to go to literary events and get involved when you can… not just because we all need the support (even National Book Award winners, I’m  guessing?) and for networking purposes, but for moments like this, when another writer chooses to get out of her head and into the world to share what she’s been thinking, so that we can do the same.