Joyce Carol Oates

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LEWISBURG, Pa. — Joyce Carol Oates, Bucknell's 2006 Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters, shared her special Bucknell connection in a Sept. 26 ceremony at the Weis Center.

“One of my first publications was in the Bucknell Review,” Oates told the audience, referring to the scholarly journal, which has ceased production. “It has a luminous significance in my mind.”

President Brian C. Mitchell described Oates as “one of the most accomplished, admired, and prolific authors in the U.S.” as he presented the medal, which honors and recognizes the highest level of achievement in fiction writing. Previous recipients are Toni Morrison, John Updike, Salman Rushdie, and Tom Wolfe.

Work includes 37 novels

Oates has written nearly 100 major works, including 37 novels, 23 short-story collections, seven volumes of poetry, and four volumes of plays. She has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and has won an array of awards, including the National Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in short fiction, and the 2005 Prix Femina, a literary prize for the best novel published in France.

“Joyce Carol Oates writes abundantly,” said Harriet Pollack, an associate professor of English at Bucknell, who introduced the author. “One recurring pattern in this great abundance is Oates’ attention to emblematically American lives and encounters with violence, psychological, and actual,” she noted, adding that Oates once told an interviewer that “a serious writer bears witness” to both good and evil.

In chronicling America, Oates has produced daring novels based on real-life headlines, Pollack said, citing as examples works based on race riots in Detroit, the Chappaquiddick incident, the mind of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and the life of Marilyn Monroe. “These controversial, experimental novels are centered in psychological realism and cultural analysis,” she said.

Earliest memories of writing

After the ceremony, Oates spoke to the attentive crowd on a range of subjects. They included her earliest memories of writing and illustrating stories as a small child on a farm in New York State, and how famous writers have used rejection as fuel and inspiration for their work.

“The detachment of artists is invaluable in the United States,” Oates said. “It gives them the perspective of a psychic outlaw, knowing that in the end they must rely on their own sense of judgment and self-worth.”

Oates praised the warmth and camaraderie of Bucknell’s campus, where she spent time with the English Club earlier in the day. “This campus is so wonderful – maybe we died on the turnpike coming here,” she quipped to the crowd’s delight. “It’s so green and bucolic and beautiful. It’s right in the middle of Pennsylvania, and you can’t get there from here. Maybe this is heaven.”

Weis Fellowship

The Weis Fellowship was established in 2002 through a grant from the Degenstein Foundation in honor of Janet Weis, an author, civic leader, philanthropist, and trustee emerita. Her late husband, Sigfried, chaired the Board of Trustees from 1982 to 1988. Mrs. Weis, who attended the ceremony and talk, received a special round of applause from the audience.

Many in attendance had traveled from other cities to hear Oates’ talk, which concluded with a book-signing and reception.

Posted Sept. 27, 2006


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