LLL Presents — Letters to a Biographer and Short Stories
Joyce Carol Oates, author; Maria DiBattista, English
Thu, 3/28 · 6:00 pm—7:30 pm · Labyrinth Books
Labryinth Books; Humanities Council
Join us as we celebrate a rich new compilation of Joyce Carol Oates’s letters across four decades, which displays her warmth and generosity, her droll and sometimes wicked sense of humor, her phenomenal energy, and most of all, her mastery of the lost art of letter writing. Oates will discuss her writing life with feminist critic and scholar Maria di Battista. They will also discuss the two recent of anthologies of crime and horror stories written by women, which Oates edited.
In this generous selection of Joyce Carol Oates’s letters to her biographer and friend Greg Johnson, readers will discover a never-before-seen dimension of her phenomenal talent.
In 1975, when Johnson was a graduate student, he first wrote to Oates, already a world-famous author, and drew an appreciative, empathetic response. Soon the two began a fairly intense, largely epistolary friendship that would last until the present day. As time passed, letters became faxes, and faxes became emails, but the energy and vividness of Oates’s writing never abated. Her letters are often sprinkled with the names of famous people, from John Updike and Toni Morrison to Steve Martin and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. There are also descriptions of far-flung travels she undertook with her first husband, the scholar and editor Raymond Smith, and with her second, the distinguished Princeton neuroscientist Charlie Gross. But much of Oates’s prose centered on the pleasures of her home life, including her pet cats and the wildlife outside her study window.
Whereas her academic essays and book reviews are eloquent in a formal way, in these letters she is wholly relaxed, even when she is serious in her concerns. Like Johnson, she was always engaged in work, whether a long novel or a brief essay, and the letters give a fascinating glimpse into Oates’s writing practice.
Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the National Book Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award, and the National Book Award, among many honors. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde; and The Falls. Her most recent novels are 48 Clues into the Disappearance of My Sister, Zero-Sum and Babysitter. She is Professor of the Humanities emerita at Princeton University and teaches at NYU. Maria DiBattista specializes in twentieth century literature and film, the European novel and narrative theory. Her books include Virginia Woolf: The Fables of Anon; First Love: The Affections of Modern Fiction; and Fast Talking Dames.
This event is co-presented by Labyrinth and the Princeton Public Library and cosponsored by Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts and the Humanities Council.