John Updike was “the contemporary American writer [Joyce Carol Oates] most admired,” according to Greg Johnson’s biography of JCO: “Updike’s rural upbringing, his devotion to the art of fiction, his wide reading,
JCO and John Updike at the Swedish Book Fair, Gothenburg, Sweden, 1987. Photo by Raymond Smith.
and his amazing productivity resembled her own, even though the two writers’ work could hardly have been more different in style and subject matter.”
Updike, for his part, admired JCO’s “wonderfully productive, creative, experimental, fearless approach to the art of fiction.”
I’ve collected in “JCO on John Updike” much of JCO’s writings about Updike and his work, including journal entries and several reviews and essays on The Coup, Rabbit at Rest, and Toward the End of Time, among others.
Princeton’s McCarter Theatre presented readings yesterday of two new one-act plays by Joyce Carol Oates: Wild Nights, about a couple who purchase an android Emily Dickinson to liven up their lives; and Grandpa Clemens & Angelfish 1906, involving Mark Twain and a group of young schoolgirls. Both plays were adapted from recent stories published in the collection Wild Nights! Stories about the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway. McCarter Theatre has been the host of a number of JCO dramas including The Perfectionist and an early version of The Passion of Henry David Thoreau.
Joyce Carol Oates (center) at the reading of Wild Nights with her fiance Charles Gross, Professor of Neuroscience at Princeton University, and her dear friend Emily Mann, Artistic Director of McCarter Theatre. (photo by Lisa Patterson)
JCO has adapted many of her stories for the theater in addition to a large body of work written originally for the stage. Notable adaptations include The Triumph of the Spider Monkey (novella), the opera Black Water (novella), Miss Golden Dreams (material from the Marilyn Monroe novel, Blonde), and The Tattooed Girl, which was written simultaneously as a novel and a play.
The recent passing of Hortense Calisher prompted me to review Joyce Carol Oates’s writings about her. There were mentions in the Journal, and in an essay, “Imaginary Cities: America,” as well as book reviews of Calisher’s The New Yorkers and Mysteries of Motion.
Of the latter, JCO writes:
This massive, densely plotted novel of the not-very- distant future is Miss Calisher’s most unexpected work of fiction and, surely, as ambitious as anything we are likely to see published this season. No summary of the interwoven plots, no discussion of the novel’s many ideas, can suggest the quality of this unusual work, which is at once a defiantly risky species of science fiction and a thoroughly realistic psychological novel—traditional in its fidelity to the analysis of human personality under stress. Suspenseful as the novel becomes, especially as its frightening conclusion approaches, it is primarily a meditation upon the nature of heroism and self-sacrifice in the service of an ideal.
JCO also included Calisher’s works in her anthologies First Person Singular: Writers On Their Craft, and Night Walks: A Bedside Companion.
Joyce Carol Oates has a new story, “Pumpkin Head,” in the January 12, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.
This October evening, before the sun had entirely set, a pair of headlights turned in to the driveway, some distance away by the road. She was startled into alertness—at first not sure where she was. Then she remembered: Anton Kruppev was dropping by to see her.
Dropping by, he’d said. Or maybe she’d said, Why don’t you drop by?
She couldn’t make out his face. He was driving a pickup truck with white lettering on one side. He climbed down from the driver’s seat in the high cab and lurched toward her on the shadowy path—a tall male scarecrow figure with a misshapen Halloween pumpkin for a head.
"It had not quite happened to her the way that she’d believed it would happen, the crossing over."