cover image Joyce Carol Oates: Letters to a Biographer

Joyce Carol Oates: Letters to a Biographer

Joyce Carol Oates, edited by Greg Johnson. Akashic, $28.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-63614-116-9

Novelist Johnson (Night Journey)—who published Invisible Writer, an authorized biography of Oates, in 1998—brings together an inviting compendium of his correspondence with the National Book Award winner from 1975 to 2006. Johnson first reached out to Oates in 1975 to express his admiration for her short story collection, The Poisoned Kiss, and what began as a cordial correspondence transformed over the ensuing years into a close friendship. The letters offer insights into Oates’s views on her fiction and the process of writing; for example, a 1999 message likens the process of cutting down the original 1,400-page manuscript for Blonde to “yank[ing] out weeds from a garden.” Other selections delve into Oates’s personal life, particularly the poignant letters tracing the declining health and deaths of her parents in the early 2000s. Literary gossip hounds will appreciate some choice tidbits sprinkled throughout (Oates credits Philip Roth’s late-’90s resurgence to the free time he enjoyed after alienating “virtually all” of his friends and lovers), but readers’ attention will flag during the surfeit of messages about Johnson’s fiction. Still, Oates’s fans will enjoy this intimate glimpse inside her life. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins & Assoc. (Mar.)