Joyce Carol Oates, Loser

Cheryl Truman of the Lexington Herald-Leader asks Joyce Carol Oates a glum question and gets a glum answer:

Does Oates see herself with that Nobel Prize? No. Her husband is dead now, and so are her parents (“It’s one’s parents who care,” she says). Who’s going to celebrate with her, be proud of her now? Winning the Nobel would be, she says, just a little sad.

“No, I must say, it doesn’t mean much to me.”

Truman’s inquiry stems from a statement she makes early in her piece that “the only major award that she has not received is the Nobel Prize for literature.” Sounds right. Isn’t right. According to Celestial Timepiece, the absurdly granular Web site dedicated to Oates’ work, JCO has never won:

The Pulitzer Prize
The Orange Broadband Prize
The PEN/Faulkner Award
The National Book Critics Circle Award

She did win the National Book Award—in 1970, which means she’s suffering a 38-year drought in which the NBAs passed over (rough estimate) 286 of her books. Her acceptance speech for that prize is worth a read. It’s been a long time since she’s won a big prize, but she hasn’t changed her mission statement:

In novels I have written, I have tried to give a shape to certain obsessions of mid-century Americans: a confusion of love and money, of the categories of public and private experience, of a demonic urge I sense all around me, an urge to violence as the answer to all problems, an urge to self-annihilation, suicide, the ultimate experience, and the ultimate surrender. The use of language is all we have to pit against death and silence.

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