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Born on June 16, 1938, in rural Lockport, New York, Oates grew up in a working-class Catholic family and attended a one-room schoolhouse, where her teacher, Mrs. “For decades,” she writes, “my memory of my first teacher was that of a childs’-eye view of a giantess, or a deity: could Mrs. ”: Franklin, Irving, Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, and Twain.
Few women writers were included among these first literary Gods, for in the process of national canonization, American women writers and artists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe or Kate Chopin had been left out of anthologies.
She was beginning her doctoral work at Rice University when one of her stories was selected for the honor roll of , and she gave up academic criticism for fiction, although she has continued to teach throughout her career. but living in Detroit, enduring the extraordinary racial tensions of that city . From 1967 to 1978, Oates and Smith taught at the University of Windsor in Canada, a decade in which she published twenty-seven books—short stories, novels, poetry, plays, and criticism.
In 1962, Oates and Smith moved to Detroit, and she was deeply marked by the racial violence that finally exploded in the riots of 1967. “I have a laughably Balzacian ambition to get the whole world into a book,” she told an interviewer in 1972.
Joyce Carol Oates is among the most distinguished writers ers of her generation, but the success story of an American woman writer is always different from the normative success story designed for men.
We have no expectations of the great American woman novelist, no myths of her growing up, or coming of age.
But the teenage girls he entranced and murdered are much less colorful characters in the news stories.
Such girls were the other side of the American fantasies of the early 1960s—the Barbie dolls, Gidgets, and groupies of the years just before the women’s movement.
From early in her career, Oates has often been judged in terms of the gender-determined norms of American literature, criticized for her enormous literary productivity and for the violence of her drama and fiction. “If the lot of womankind has not yet widely diverged from that romantically envisioned by our Moral Majority,” Oates wrote in 1981, “. War, rape, murder and the more colorful minor crimes evidently fall within the exclusive province of male action.” In the 1980s and 1990s, her work has moved toward more explicitly feminist themes.
Yet Oates has also been reluctant to describe herself as a “woman writer” or a “feminist writer.” Instead, she calls herself a “(woman) writer,” an artist whose imagination and ambition is genderless, yet who knows her social identity constrained by cultural expectations and by the literary traditions of sexual difference.