Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates

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9780452279711: Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates

Johnson reveals little-known facts about Oates's personal and family history and debunks many of the myths that have arisen about this brilliant, enigmatic woman. Johnson takes readers from Oates's impoverished childhood in upstate New York and the birth of her autistic sister through Oates's studies at Syracuse University, where her talent was immediately recognized, to the full breadth of her astonishingly productive career. His astute examination of Oates's novels, short stories, and plays demonstrates how her art has been informed by her life.

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About the Author:

Greg Johnson is the author of the widely praised novel Pagan Babies, and his short stories have won national awards. His critical works include Understanding Joyce Carol Oates and Joyce Carol Oates: A Study of the Short Fiction. Johnson lives in Atlanta, where he received his Ph.D. in American Literature from Emory University. He is now a professor of English at Kennesaw State University, where he teaches in the graduate writing program.

From Kirkus Reviews:

An authorized portrait of the intensely prolific novelist as an artist and a person. As Oates's literary executor, fiction writer Johnson (Pagan Babies, 1993; I Am Dangerous, 1996; etc.) wisely uses his access to her presumably massive hoard of papers to develop relatively select themes important in her life. He traces her understanding of violence, for example, to incidents from her family's past; to Oates's schoolyard brushes with brutality in her rural New York hometown; to her mid-1960s stint in riot-charged Detroit; and also to several eerie, Rothian, and ominous encounters with fans and students. Her compassion for victims also originated, Johnson says, in her childhood, as did her devotion to ``memorializing'' her parents. But the strongest force animating Oates is doubtless her will to produce, displayed for decades in her famous literary profusion, resulting from a routine protected by a ``bourgeois'' lifestyle and stable marriage to the scholar and critic Raymond Smith. Intertwined with the biographical narrative, Johnson provides a blandly respectful overview of of the writers artistic growth, charted partly through the record offered in her journal entries. Throughout, Johnson heeds Oates's belief that biographies should be ``solidly grounded in fact''; the result is a full characterization of a multilayered, idiosyncratic woman. In fact, the book is so stocked with documentation that it sometimes goes over the top. For non-diehard Oatesians, this excess will be too much, reflecting the main drawback of nearly all biographies written by allies of the portrayed subject: a loyalty that tends to overstep its bounds. A more basic narrative problem is the relatively quiet life Oates has led, tame at least by the standards of literary lions. This life of talent dutifully plied, sustained, and rewarded offers less drama and excitement than any of the tales Oates has concocted in her fiction. -- Copyright 1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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