Joyce Carol Oates

March 13, 2011


Ms. Oates has a new book out. About her experience as a widow. I’ve read 2 reviews on the book. One called it courageous. The other was not so kind. I went to university when Ms. Oates and Mr. Smith were teaching at the University of Windsor. They had a rather strange mystique about them. Dr. Smith was perceived as the supportive quiet husband (reminding me of Mrs. Thatcher’s husband Denis). I don’t remember much else about Dr. Smith except that he seemed like an other professor moving anonymously through the campus on the way to the University Centre. You almost never saw Ms. Oates. She was like some exotic literary bird, fluttering about, but mostly nestling down in her office. At the time, her literary reputation was built on her book ‘Them’. I read it. Can’t remember being impressed. There was a lot of attention being paid to a new type of fiction(?) being written by Norman Mailer. Personal journalism. Mailer was always referring to himself in the 3rd person. He seemed to harvest his emotions, as if that was the purpose of the writer. The result of these emotional pluckings were insights into the common human psyche. Oates’s work was like that. She was a kind of martyr of art. (She had disciples amongst the students but this was not uncommon. Many professors had their small fiefdom’s of undergraduates.) Ms. Oates organized a series of lectures by different people around the work of Doris Lessing. Especially the Golden Notebook. It was a fabulous series and I became a big fan of Lessing’s work. I never saw Ms. Oates being in the same class as Doris Lessing. But I had little respect for most of the staff in the English department. (One of my philosopher profs called English ‘Grade B Philosophy’.) Will I read Ms. Oates widow book? No. But I am curious about her book on Marilyn Monroe.

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