At times I feel that I could write endlessly

Joyce Carol Oates in 1972
Photo: Bernard Gotfryd

Born in 1938, Joyce Carol Oates is an American writer with more than 50 novels and numerous literary awards to her name. Since the age of 21 Oates has kept a journal of some kind, but it was in 1973, aged 35, that she began the 5,000 pages now housed at the Joyce Carol Oates Archive at Syracuse University Library. When she penned the following entry in 1981, Oates was in the midst of writing The Crosswicks Horror, a new novel in her gothic series that began a year earlier with the release of Bellefleur. As it happens, this fresh installment wasn’t published for another 32 years, and when it did appear, it bore a new name: The Accursed.

The Diary Entry

June 8, 1981. . . . Very early in the morning, flashes of images in the brain: and what is the writing, then, but the pleasant task of fitting words to rhythms. . . . My canny narrator: the layer that divides him from me, and from the characters in the novel; the characters themselves in their separate phantom-haunted worlds. . . . The subaqueous world of the imagination that must be entered, but also resisted; for one can drown there.

. . . Hour upon hour, the “subaqueous” element! At times I feel that I could write endlessly, scarcely rising to the surface to eat, or even breathe. One image, pursued, exhausted, then begets another. . . . My narrator, obsessed with words (long “impressive” nineteenth-century words!) and with word- rhythms, is my perfect mate. In any case—the Crosswicks Horror has driven him crazy, as it would drive any of us crazy, had we the moral strength.

Further Reading

As mentioned, Oates’ extensive journals are held at the Joyce Carol Oates Archive at Syracuse University Library.

In 2007, a decade’s-worth of those journals were published as The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982, edited by Greg Johnson. The result is an absorbing portrait of a distinguished and impossibly prolific writer, featuring countless insights into her creative process.

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