On Monday, students, alumni and Ramapo community members enjoyed a Q&A and reading with award-winning author Joyce Carol Oates as part of the Readings at Ramapo Visiting Writers Series.
Oates, known for her short stories and works of fiction, has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service. She began her writing career in 1963 and has since published over 60 works, spanning the genres of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She currently teaches at Princeton University.
"When we have visiting writers, I try to think about what writer will be a good guest and whose work could speak to faculty and student concerns," Associate Professor of English James Hoch said. "I felt that Joyce Carol Oates met those needs."
Oates’ visit to Ramapo began with a question and answer session in the Pavilion. Introduced by Hoch, the session started with questions from English professor Monika Giacoppe and then students were given the chance to ask their own questions.
One of the first questions focused on what the writing process is like for Oates.
"Storytelling [for me] is somehow related to exercise and momentum. When I was running, I would tell the story in visual terms [and] I went over and over the [chapter outline] while I was running. So when I came home, I would be remembering something I already created," Oates said. "I’ve often felt in my own writing the setting is important."
Oates also answered questions about specific works and the development of the characters in her novels.
"I think of the beating hearts of the people behind these headlines [that the stories are based on]," Oates said. "[In Wild Nights], my focus is on the Henry James that’s human, more than the writer. With Henry James, for instance, in Wild Nights, the surprise of Henry James is [that] he is such a loving person…but then in World War I he was so struck by the suffering…[that] but was a new thing for Henry James so close to the end of his life."
She also expressed that while inspired by many writers, Lewis Carroll was one of the first authors she read growing up and said he was very influential on her writing career.
"The next big influence would be Hemingway, when I was about 15," Oates added.
A reading followed the Q&A in the Sharp Theater with overflow into the Adler Theater.
"Her bio reads as a list of [many] awards and accomplishments," Hoch said in his introduction.
Oates read her short story "San Quentin," which is based on her experience teaching English to prisoners in San Quentin, and "A Brutal Murder in a Public Place."
"I thought the reading was very interesting. I loved the first story [San Quentin], I thought it was an interesting view," sophomore Amanda Kulesza said. "I’m a literature major so I love all of this stuff."
After reading her two short stories, Oates took more questions from audience members, discussing her writing style and her novel, "Blonde."
"One of the strategies of the novel ["Blonde"] was to be selective," Oates said. "It’s a postmodernist novel from the voice of Marilyn Monroe, well Norma Jean Baker, from beyond the grave."
Many audience members were familiar with Oates’ works prior to attending the reading.
"Mostly what I’ve read is her young adult [novels], and [the pieces tonight are] a lot different than I thought, but it made me want to read more. Even in her same categories of stories, she writes very differently," senior Stevie Rand said.
Oates is the second writer this semester to come to Ramapo as part of the Visiting Writers Series.
"The Creative Writing and Literature program is looking forward to a time when our funding would be significant enough that we can offer many of these experiences with writers with a reputation as Joyce Carol Oates more than once a year," Hoch said.
For more information about future visiting writers, visit ramapo.edu.