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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Essential to our world

“My theory is that literature is essential to society in the way that dreams are essential to our lives. We can't live without dreaming - as we can't live without sleep. We are 'conscious' beings for only a limited period of time, then we sink back into sleep - the 'unconscious.' It is nourishing, in ways we can't fully understand.” – Joyce Carol Oates

Yesterday was Oates 77th birthday and like almost every other day she spent about 4 hours (or more) writing.  The prolific writer said she enjoys the process as much as the product and puts in the hours accordingly. 

Oates, an Upstate New Yorker by birth attended a one-room country school as a child (something we have in common, down to the fact that like me she went to the same country school that her dad attended).  She had her first book published in 1963 when she decided to go to Vanguard Press.  While that one cost some from her own pocket (Vanguard “shares” publishing costs with the author), it was the last time that sort of thing happened. 

That novel’s success opened the floodgates for her and since then she’s had more than 40 novels, a number of plays and novellas, and many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction published by the world’s leading publishers.  For those efforts she’s won numerous awards, including a National Book Award for her 1969 novel Them.  A terrific writer in all genres, she’s also won two O. Henry Awards and the National Humanities Medal.   Three novels – Black Water, What I Lived For, and Blonde – along with two of her short story collections were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Joyce Carol Oates

Oh, and did I mention that Oates teaches writing at Princeton (since 1978), usually in the afternoons since she likes to write from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in her own unique style – longhand.   Many days she also writes a couple hours in the evenings.

“I have forced myself to begin writing when I've been utterly exhausted," she said,  "when I've felt my soul as thin as a playing card…and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.”

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