“To write a novel is to embark on a quest that is very romantic. People have visions, and the next step is to execute them. That's a very romantic project. Like Edvard Munch's strange dreamlike canvases where people are stylized, like 'The Scream.' Munch must have had that vision in a dream; he never saw it.” – Joyce Carol Oates
Born on this day in 1938, Oates published her first book in 1963 and has since published over 40 novels, a number of plays and novellas, many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and been a frequent reviewer of others’ works.
Winner of many writing awards, including the National Book Award for her novel them, two O. Henry Awards, and the National Humanities Medal, she also teaches writing at Princeton University. Five of her other books have been nominated for Pulitzer Prizes and she’s considered a “short lister” for the Nobel Prize.
Despite her remarkable and prolific output, she says she never rushes the completion process for each of her works. “My reputation for writing quickly and effortlessly notwithstanding, I am strongly in favor of intelligent, even fastidious revision, which is, or certainly should be, an art in itself,” she said.
I’ve always identified with Oates because, like me, she grew up as a farm kid – me in South Dakota; she in Upstate New York. We share the experiences of doing chores and lots of them; and finding quiet spaces in the fields, or out herding cattle, or sitting alongside a creek or pond to read books, stories or whatever else we could get our hands on. And, we share the concept that dreams play a key role in a writer’s life.
“... Dreams are essential to our lives,” she said. “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.” Except, perhaps, through our writing, and her interpretation is exceptional.
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