This is the era of “full disclosure.” The memoirist excoriates him-/herself, as in a parody of public penitence, assuming then that the excoriation, exposure, humiliation of others is justified…As the memoir is the most seductive of literary genres, so the memoir is the most dangerous of genres. For the memoir is a repository of truths, as each discrete truth is uttered, but the memoir can’t be the repository of Truth which is the very breadth of the sky, too vast to be perceived in a single gaze.

-Joyce Carol Oates, A Widow’s Story (318)

Book signings

Signing the title pages of my books, in the large clear Palmer script of my long-ago schoolgirl, self, invariably I feel just slightly giddy, as if, at such moments, the grim facade of life is stripped away and what is revealed is a kind of costume party. I am the Author, the smiling individuals waiting patiently in line to have their books signed are Readers. Our roles provide a kind of childlike contentment like those food trays in which areas are divided from one another, so that foods will not run together. Signing books for readers may be the only times that certain writers smile.

-Joyce Carol Oates, A Widow’s Story (313)


[A] long-anticipated exhibit of a collection of my books owned by the writer/interviewer Larry Grobel in Los Angeles has just been mounted in the Powell Library at UCLA under the title JOYCE CAROL OATES—THE WONDER WOMAN OF AMERICAN LITERATURE…How Ray would have smiled at this—or laughed outright: “The Wonder Woman of American Literature.”

What the widow has lost—it would seem a trifling loss, to others—is the possibility of being teased.

Of all the categories of being, The Widow is the least likely to be teased, laughed-at.

-Joyce Carol Oates, A Widow’s Story (247-248)

Teaching vs. Writing

Devote myself to my students, my teaching. This is something I can do, that is of value.

For writing—being a writer—always seems to the writer to be of dubious value.

Being a writer is like being one of those riskily overbred pedigree dogs—a French bulldog, for instance—poorly suited for survival despite their vary special attributes.

Being a writer is in defiance of Darwin’s observation that the more highly specialized a species, the more likelihood of extinction.

Teaching—even the teaching of writing—is altogether different. Teaching is an act of communication, sympathy—a reaching-out—a wish to share knowledge, skills; a rapport with others who are students; a way of allowing others into the solitariness of one’s soul.

Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche—so Chaucer says of his young scholar in the Canterbury Tales. When teachers feel good about teaching, this is how we feel.

-Joyce Carol Oates, A Widow’s Story (180-181)