Joyce Carol Oates was inspired to write "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" after reading an account in Life magazine of a charismatic but insecure young man who had enticed and then killed several girls in Tucson, Arizona, during the early 1960s. Transformed into fiction, this story was first published by the literary journal Epoch in 1966 and was included in Oates's 1970 short story collection The Wheel of Love. Critical acclaim was so swift and certain that as early as 1972, critic Walter Sullivan noted that it was "one of her most widely reprinted stories and justly so." Along with the story's frequent appearance in textbooks and anthologies, Oates herself republished it in 1974 as the title story for Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?: Stories of Young America. This collection's subtitle points to Oates's ongoing interest in adolescence, especially the psychological and social turmoil that arises during this difficult period. Her preoccupation with these topics, along with her keen sense of the special pressures facing teenagers in contemporary society, is evident in ''Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?''
This story is seen by many as one of Oates's best and in the words of scholar G. F. Waller, it is "one of the masterpieces of the genre." Oates's realism often garners such praise; critics and readers alike have commended the presentation of the story's central character, Connie, as a typical teenager who may be disliked, pitied, or even identified with. A similar believability is instilled in Arnold Friend's manipulative stream of conversation and its psychological effects on a vulnerable teenager. Critics also praise the story for its evocative language, its use of symbols, and an ambiguous conclusion which allows for several interpretations of the story's meaning. In 1988, a film version of the story was released entitled Smooth Talk.