Joyce Carol Oates was born on June 16, 1938, in Lockport, New York, a small city on the Erie Barge Canal near Buffalo, to Fredric James and Caroline (Bush) Oates. Her father was a tool and die designer, and Oates’s childhood was spent in a rural town, where she attended a one-room schoolhouse. From earliest memory she wanted to be an author. As a small child she drew pictures to tell stories; later she wrote them out, sometimes producing handwritten books of up to two hundred pages with carefully designed covers.
Oates’s childhood was simple and happy, and she developed a closeness to her parents that flourished in her adult years. Her brother, Fredric, Jr., was born in 1943, and her sister, Lynn Ann, in 1956; in that year Oates graduated from Williamsville Central High School, where she had written for the school newspaper, and was entering Syracuse University under a New York State Regents Scholarship, the first in her family to attend college. During her freshman year, a tachycardiac seizure during a basketball game profoundly affected her view of life by bringing her face-to-face with her mortality. She continued writing stories, and in 1959 she was selected cowinner of the Mademoiselle college fiction award for “In the Old World.” An excellent student, she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated in 1960 at the top of her class.
She received a Knapp Fellowship to pursue graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, where she met a Ph.D. candidate named Raymond Joseph Smith. She and Smith were married on January 23, 1961, and later that year she received her M.A. in English. Smith and Oates moved to Texas, where he taught in Beaumont and she began doctoral work at Rice University in Houston; however, with one of her stories appearing on the honor roll of Martha Foley’s Best American Short Stories, Oates soon decided to devote herself to her writing.
Her first collection of stories, By the North Gate, appeared in 1963, followed a year later by her first novel, With Shuddering Fall, which, like many of her stories, depicted passionate individuals and violent situations. In 1967, A Garden of Earthly Delights appeared as the first novel in a thematic trilogy exploring the American obsession with money. It was followed by Expensive...
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