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Joyce Carol Oates in conversation with Steve Wasserman

March 18 @ 6:00 pm

Joyce Carol Oates in conversation with Steve Wasserman

celebrating the publication of

Joyce Carol Oates: Letters to a Biographer

Edited by Greg Johnson

Published by Akashic Books

This rich compilation of Joyce Carol Oates’s letters across four decades displays her warmth and generosity, her droll and sometimes wicked sense of humor, her phenomenal energy, and most of all, her mastery of the lost art of letter writing.

In this generous selection of Joyce Carol Oates’s letters to her biographer and friend Greg Johnson, readers will discover a never-before-seen dimension of her phenomenal talent.

In 1975, when Johnson was a graduate student, he first wrote to Oates, already a world-famous author, and drew an appreciative, empathetic response. Soon the two began a fairly intense, largely epistolary friendship that would last until the present day. As time passed, letters became faxes, and faxes became emails, but the energy and vividness of Oates’s writing never abated. Her letters are often sprinkled with the names of famous people, from John Updike and Toni Morrison to Steve Martin and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. There are also descriptions of far-flung travels she undertook with her first husband, the scholar and editor Raymond Smith, and with her second, the distinguished Princeton neuroscientist Charlie Gross. But much of Oates’s prose centered on the pleasures of her home life, including her pet cats and the wildlife outside her study window.

Whereas her academic essays and book reviews are eloquent in a formal way, in these letters she is wholly relaxed, even when she is serious in her concerns. Like Johnson, she was always engaged in work, whether a long novel or a brief essay, and the letters give a fascinating glimpse into Oates’s writing practice.

Joyce Carol Oates is the celebrated author of a number of works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. She is the editor of New Jersey Noir, Prison Noir, and Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers; and a recipient of the National Book Award, the PEN America Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Humanities Medal, and a World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey. A Darker Shade of Noir: New Stories of Body Horror by Women Writers is her latest work.

Steve Wasserman is the publisher of Heyday Books. He is a former editor-at-large for Yale University Press and editorial director of Times Books/Random House and publisher of Hill & Wang and The Noonday Press at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. A founder of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities at the University of Southern California, Wasserman was a principal architect of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books during the nine years he served as editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review (1996–2005). He has written for many publications, including The Village Voice, Threepenny Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The American Conservative, The Progressive, Columbia Journalism Review, Los Angeles Times, and the (London) Times Literary Supplement.

About the editor

Greg Johnson has a PhD in English from Emory University and has published three novels and five collections of short stories, including Pagan Babies, I Am Dangerous, and Night Journey, in addition to five books of nonfiction, including Joyce Carol Oates: A Study of Short Fiction and Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates. He has published essays and reviews in the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, the Yale Review, and many other publications. Johnson has twice been named Georgia Author of the Year. He makes his home in Atlanta.

This event was made possible by support from the City Lights Foundation.