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Literary Legend Joyce Carol Oates: America ‘tragically divided’

By Jake Beardslee · July 9, 2023

Acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates reflects on her career, the Taobook Prize she recently received, the divided state of America, and her latest book, "Babysitter," which addresses issues of sexism and racism while drawing parallels to contemporary figures like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein.  Rodrigo Fernández, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates, known for her profound dissection of American society through her literary works, was recently honored with the prestigious Taobuk Prize at Sicily’s Taormina Book Festival. The 84-year-old writer, who has penned over 100 books throughout her 60-year career, sat down with France24’s Fatimata Wane to discuss her feelings about the award, her views on the current state of the United States, and her latest book.

“It’s a great honor,” Oates said about receiving the Taobuk Prize. “It brings me deep inside myself for introspection, to contemplate the ways in which I begin as a very young writer with great doubt and insecurity, to find myself with readers that I would never have anticipated.”

Asked about her thoughts on awards, Oates said that while they can be encouraging, especially for young writers, there comes a point where they can become dazzling and potentially distracting. “The writer has to stay anonymous. Important to all artists should be quiet and effacing, whereas receiving awards is like dazzling. It’s like too much attention, which is a negative thing … ultimately.”

Oates shared her perspective on the current state of the United States, describing it as “tragically divided.” She noted the rift between rural, fundamentalist populations and those who are more highly educated and comfortable with technology. She said, “There’s the rural way of life, and then there’s the kind of urban. Our urban centers are highly developed and very ethnically diverse. Our rural areas tend to be homogenous, white and older populations. So there are really two populations. Ultimately, the urban areas with the diverse populations will increase and continue. So that will be America in the future.”

Her latest book, “Babysitter,” addresses issues of sexism and racism, resonating with today’s societal challenges despite being set in the 70s. Oates explained that she wanted to explore the network of enablers that protect and make possible predators, drawing parallels between the sexual predator at the center of her novel and contemporary figures, noting, “When we look at somebody like Harvey Weinstein and [Jeffrey] Epstein and others, we see that they have this a big web of people helping them. That seemed to be like a new a new insight. So I wanted to write about that.”

Light Wave commentary

Joyce Carol Oates’ reflections offer a fascinating insight into the mind of one of America’s most prolific authors. Her candid discussion about the role of awards in a writer’s life, her astute observations about the divisions within American society, and her exploration of complex themes in her latest work all underscore her enduring relevance and influence in the literary world.