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Quotes of the day: Joyce Carol Oates

Published Monday, June 15, 2015 @ 9:46 PM EDT
Jun 15 2015

Joyce Carol Oates (b. June 16, 1937) is an American author. Oates published her first book in 1963 and has since published over forty novels, as well as a number of plays and novellas, and many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction. She has won many awards for her writing, including the National Book Award, for her novel them (1969), two O. Henry Awards, and the National Humanities Medal. Her novels Black Water (1992), What I Lived For (1994), Blonde (2000), and short story collections The Wheel of Love and Other Stories (1970) and Lovely, Dark, Deep: Stories (2014) were each nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Oates has taught at Princeton University since 1978 and is currently the Roger S. Berlind '52 Professor in the Humanities with the Program in Creative Writing. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


Any kind of creative activity is likely to be stressful. The more anxiety, the more you feel that you are headed in the right direction. Easiness, relaxation, comfort - these are not conditions that usually accompany serious work.

Any number of definitions help to determine who we are. It doesn't hurt to be a woman writer, an American woman writer, American woman writer of the 21st century. I think all these descriptions of us- and they're descriptions and adjectives that pertain to you- none of them diminish you, really. I think that maybe there's a kind of deepening or expansion the more identifications you have.

At a time when politics deals in distortions and half truths, truth is to be found in the liberal arts.

Boxing has become America's tragic theater.

Boxing is about being hit rather more than it is about hitting, just as it is about feeling pain, if not devastating psychological paralysis, more than it is about winning.

Critics sometimes appear to be addressing themselves to works other than those I remember writing.

Early failure, as long as it's not prolonged, is probably a good idea.

Homo sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that symbols are inventions.

I can entertain the proposition that life is a metaphor for boxing- for one of those bouts that go on and on, round following round, jabs, missed punches, clinches, nothing determined, again the bell and again and you and your opponent so evenly matched it's impossible not to see that your opponent is you... Life is like boxing in many unsettling respects. But boxing is only like boxing.

I should say, one of the things about being a widow or a widower, you really, really need a sense of humor, because everything's going to fall apart.

If food is poetry, is not poetry also food?

If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework- you can still be writing, because you have that space.

If you're living with a scientist, you see the world differently than you do with a humanist. It's in some ways very subtle, the differences in perceiving reality.

In love there are two things- bodies and words.

Love commingled with hate is more powerful than love. Or hate.

Love is an indescribable sensation- perhaps a conviction, a sense of certitude.

Night comes to the desert all at once, as if someone turned off the light.

'No offense' always means yes, offense intended.

Nothing is accidental in the universe- this is one of my Laws of Physics- except the entire universe itself, which is Pure Accident, pure divinity.

Old women snore violently. They are like bodies into which bizarre animals have crept at night; the animals are vicious, bawdy, noisy. How they snore! There is no shame to their snoring. Old women turn into old men.

Our enemy is by tradition our savior, in preventing us from superficiality.

Our house is made of glass... and our lives are made of glass; and there is nothing we can do to protect ourselves.

Pain, in the proper context, is something other than pain.

Prose- it might be speculated- is discourse; poetry ellipsis. Prose is spoken aloud; poetry overheard. The one is presumably articulate and social, a shared language, the voice of "communication"; the other is private, allusive, teasing, sly, idiosyncratic as the spider's delicate web, a kind of witchcraft unfathomable to ordinary minds.

The only people who claim that money is not important are people who have enough money so that they are relieved of the ugly burden of thinking about it.

The relationship between parents and children, but especially between mothers and daughters, is tremendously powerful, scarcely to be comprehended in any rational way.

The television screen, so unlike the movie screen, sharply reduced human beings, revealed them as small, trivial, flat, in two banal dimensions, drained of color. Wasn't there something reassuring about it!- that human beings were in fact merely images of a kind registered in one another's eyes and brains, phenomena composed of microscopic flickering dots like atoms. They were atoms- nothing more. A quick switch of the dial and they disappeared and who could lament the loss?

The use of language is all we have to pit against death and silence.

The worst cynicism: a belief in luck.

The written word, obviously, is very inward, and when we're reading, we're thinking. It's a sort of spiritual, meditative activity. When we're looking at visual objects, I think our eyes are obviously directed outward, so there's not as much reflective time. And it's the reflectiveness and the spiritual inwardness about reading that appeals to me.

There is the expectation that a younger generation has the opportunity to redeem the crimes and failings of their elders and would have the strength and idealism to do so.

Think, next time you are 'deeply offended' by something, that it may be your own problem and deal with it accordingly.

We are linked by blood, and blood is memory without language.

When people say there is too much violence (in my books), what they are saying is there is too much reality in life.

When poets- write about food it is usually celebratory. Food as the thing-in-itself, but also the thoughtful preparation of meals, the serving of meals, meals communally shared: a sense of the sacred in the profane.

When you're fifty you start thinking about things you haven't thought about before. I used to think getting old was about vanity- but actually it's about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial.

Where once poets were the voices of moral indignation, insight, prophecy, judgment- now it is stand-up comedians. But only just a few.

Why is picking someone's brain less reprehensible than picking someone's pocket?


(June 16 is also the birthday of Katharine Graham.)

Categories: Joyce Carol Oates, Quotes of the day


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