Detroit Housewife Writes Play

1. “Detroit Housewife Writes Play”. That’s how Joyce Carol Oates says she was received as a young beginning writer as she reminisced during a special event Monday night at the Smithsonian Institution. I’ve heard this writer speak before and in fact enjoyed it enough to want to hear her again (even though, to be honest, I haven’t read a whole novel of hers since Black Water in 1992). This gathering found Ms. Oates in sharp and snappy form. She spoke of her stark one-room schoolhouse childhood, cited Lewis Carroll as her earliest literary influence, and charmingly called her interviewer “naive” for suggesting that she might ever allow her characters to tell her about themselves (“how,” she asks, “would a character tell me anything?”). On a roll, Ms. Oates also scolded a questioner from the audience who asked if she’d met famous people such as US Presidents, telling him “perhaps there are more important people in the world than male Presidents for me to meet”. As always, Ms. Oates’ willowy manner and Pre-Raphaelite affect has a breathtaking impact on audiences, and the folks at the Freer Gallery ate her up. She should be in the movies — she could win an Oscar. I still don’t know, though, if I’ll find the time to read her latest novel, Little Bird of Heaven.

2. I think it’s great that Oprah Winfrey has picked Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One Of Them as her next influential Oprah’s Book Club selection. She has made several brilliant choices over the years, and Say You’re One Of Them (which was reviewed on LitKicks here) is a bleak, straightforward book with a strong and highly focused humanitarian message about political violence against children in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Gabon. I’m sure Oprah intends this book is to stand alongside Elie Wiesel’s Night on the bookshelf. The author, a young Jesuit born in Nigeria who has traveled through Africa and the world, is as much an activist as an artist, and the book is short on ostentation and long on horrifying truth. A lot of people — adults and children, often together, often huddling in their own homes — get killed in this book, but the book is no thriller. Oprah has made an unusual and brave choice.

3. Somebody recently asked “Should literary blogs get political?” Yeah, well, I think we should. It’s not like critical issues aren’t at stake, like the health care debate, which I find myself following carefully these days. I strongly support a health care bill and a public option, I am 100% behind Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as they deal with this difficult challenge, and I really like Will Ferrell’s latest commentary on the whole thing.

6 Responses

  1. A ha!

    I’ve never really
    A ha!

    I’ve never really gotten Joyce Carol Oates or the reason for the high esteem she is held. Perhpas its pure bias on my part.

    Still, I’ve noticed and wondered why you seem to really like and admire her, talk about her etc…

    Well, in light of your recent memoir and the point of your life you are at, I remember when you wrote up about your divorce etc…way back when. It was around the time LitKicks changed format as I recalled, so I goofed around with the way back machine to see when the format actually changed and I happened across an old about me page.

    Oates was your teacher! You knew her!


  2. Hi Tim — no, not correct!
    Hi Tim — no, not correct! Joyce Carol Oates was not my teacher … you must be referring to when I described a famous writing teacher who looked like Joyce Carol Oates but was not Joyce Carol Oates — the honest truth is, this teacher was Lynne Sharon Schwartz. Who does look somewhat like Joyce Carol Oates.

  3. Perhaps, Ms. Schwartz, given
    Perhaps, Ms. Schwartz, given time, will be as well known as Ms. Oates, whom I’ve heard speak, and also critiqued my work many years ago.

  4. Hey, and while we’re
    Hey, and while we’re mentioning it, let’s not forget Uwem Akpan. He’s on the way up.

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