Joyce Carol Oates was born on June 16, 1938, in Lockport, New York. She received a modest education in a one-room schoolhouse and, as a child, had very little exposure to literature. This, however, did not quell her desire to write, and she spent much of her time as a child writing stories and short books. Even with all the writing and composing experience she had in her childhood, however, she did not publish her first story until 1959. While studying at Syracuse University, she won Mademoiselle magazine’s college fiction competition with her short story “In the Old World.” This would be the first of many public acknowledgments of the quality of her writing.
After receiving her B.A. from Syracuse in 1960, where she was valedictorian, Oates went on to receive her M.A. from the University of Wisconsin. During her term at Syracuse, she met her future husband, Raymond J. Smith. They married in 1961 and then moved to Beaumont, Texas, and Oates began to work on her Ph.D. at Rice University. She would never complete the degree; she and her husband moved to Michigan in 1962. While in Michigan, she taught English at the University of Detroit until 1967, when she and her husband began teaching at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. During their tenure at the university, Smith and Oates cofounded the Windsor Review. After leaving the university in 1978, Oates went on to join the Princeton University Creative Writing Program. While a member of the program, she wrote not only fiction but also some brilliant essays on writers ranging from William Shakespeare to Norman Mailer.
Oates’s teaching career has proved rich and rewarding. In 1987 she was appointed Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Princeton and published a monograph titled On Boxing, after which she became internationally known as an expert on the sport. In addition to serving on the faculty at Princeton, Oates has traveled extensively, often undertaking her journeys to bring attention to her most recently published novel or short-story collection. Throughout the years she has given many public readings of her works and has appeared as the keynote speaker at various national and international conferences. After joining the Princeton faculty she also toured Eastern Europe under the auspices of the U.S. Information Agency.