It’s the birthday of American novelist and short-story writer Joyce Carol Oates (books by this author), born in Lockport, New York (1938). Oates has written more than 70 books and been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize five times. She’s often been criticized for being so prolific, and once replied, “Each book is a world unto itself and must stand alone, and it should not matter whether a book is a writer’s first, or tenth, or fiftieth.”
Oates was raised Catholic in Millersport, New York, where her father was a tool and die designer. She led a typical working-class life, though she once called her childhood “a daily scramble for existence.” Her grandmother encouraged her obsessive reading habits and gave Oates Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which Oates referred to as “the most profound literary influence of my life.” In her teens, she tore through the works of Charlotte Brontë, William Faulkner, and Dostoyevsky. Her grandmother gave her a typewriter when she was 14, and she began writing stories immediately. By the time she graduated Syracuse University as valedictorian, she’d already completed several novels, though she found them shoddy and threw them away. Her first novel, With Shuddering Fall, was published in 1969.
Oates writes about class and violence, and also writes in genres like romance and mystery. She once submitted a novel to her agent under a pseudonym, Rosamond Smith, and it was accepted for publication without her agent even guessing. When the ruse was discovered, Oates was unrepentant. She said, “I wanted to escape from my own identity.” She’s written about boxing in the book On Boxing (1987) and a fictionalized account of actress Marilyn Monroe’s life, called Blonde (1999). Her other books include We Were the Mulvaneys (1996) and A Fair Maiden (2010).