By Carrie Tuhy
One frigid night last January, a diminutive woman in a full-length down coat and decidedly feminine hat raced across the train tracks to the lot where her car was parked. She had just finished teaching her last creative writing class for the semester and her briefcase was packed with the final projects—among them, possibly a future bestseller. It had happened before. This woman knows literary success firsthand. Very little slows down Joyce Carol Oates, one of America’s most prolific writers, who will turn 75 next June. Recently, she tweeted to her 26,000 followers: “I’ve just finished my best writing ever,” following the completion of a new novel to add to her canon.
But tonight is not about literature or teaching. She’s late for dinner with her professor husband of four years and a “dear friend” who has recently lost his spouse of more than six decades. She says of the man: “He’s both here and there. He’s with us but he’s also living posthumously.” Oates knows, too, about the “ontological shock” of widowhood; she wrote A Widow’s Story: A Memoir in 2011. She understands also that she may not see her desolate friend for a while; she and her husband are headed to the West Coast soon to teach at U.C. Berkeley. Out of sight now, one can imagine this tiny figure sliding into the driver’s seat, stepping on the gas, and heading out into the icy streets—and the darkness.
It has been 50 years since Oates published her first book, a story collection (By the North Gate, 1963), and in March a book she started eight years ago, The Accursed, a historical novel that is first of a trilogy, hits bookstores. In January this year, she also published Daddy Love, a crime story. And let’s not forget her e-book Patricide, a novella that has a Philip Roth–like character who is a writer and a womanizer.
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