Joyce Carol Oates spoke at Bloomfield College on Monday, November 6. Oates, who received an honorary degree from the College in 2010, has written over 40 books and numerous short works, and has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist five times.
Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. Her most recent novel is A Book of American Martyrs (2017). She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.
“Her work is legendary and covers so many areas,” said President Richard A. Levao, a friend of Oates, in his opening remarks. Levao also filled the crowd in on some fun trivia regarding Oates, noting that the prolific author is a “cat lover,” has voiced the cartoon version of herself on the Simpsons, and has been the answer on Jeopardy three times so far this year. “When you read her books, you discover new worlds.”
“It’s a really big day for us to have someone of your stature here at Bloomfield College,” said program moderator, Dr. Angela Conrad, Professor of English and Women's Studies at the College. “We are all in awe of your talent and your commitment to your craft.”
The celebrated author spoke candidly about everything from her upbringing in rural upstate New York, to her sister who has autism, to the benefits running has on her creativity, to the impact of mentors upon her career. Oates cited the College as supportive of her literary endeavors, recalling appreciatively how the institution provided her a space to write her novel, The Sacrifice, for a few days after Superstorm Sandy. The novel was published in 2015.
A brief focus of the discussion between Dr. Conrad and Oates was Oates’ role in gothic literature. Dr. Conrad brought up Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe in comparison.
“I am friendly with Stephen [King]. In the conclusions of his books, he has a resolution. With my writing, a happy ending is not guaranteed,” said Oates, with a smile.
After the discussion, Oates was greeted by audience members, which included Bloomfield College Trustees, faculty, staff, current students, alumni, and residents of Bloomfield Township.