Oates Interviewed

The Columbus Dispatch has an e-mail interview with Joyce Carol Oates–the first I’ve seen with her since the death of her husband, Raymond Smith, in February. She has a new book of short stories, Wild Nights! Stories About the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James and Hemingway, and inevitably the discussion turns to Smith:

Q: In your journal entries, you have described yourself as “ lazy” and even “staggeringly indolent” and yet you’ve been astonishingly prolific for decades. Do these contrasting inclinations still exist?

A: Since my husband’s unexpected death, I really have very little energy. I am tired nearly all the time and have terrible insomniac nights. So perhaps the longtime theme of my “energy” is no longer relevant. … Now, living alone, I feel as if I am lacking gravity, or oxygen … the freedom of aloneness is a melancholy thing.

My husband was not at all involved in my literary life; he did not read most of my writing, only just reviews (as an editor, Ray had a first-rate eye. We were together in this house most of the time, in our separate offices, meeting for meals, afternoon walks and bicycle rides, and social engagements. Ray never interfered in my professional life — did not offer opinions, and did not read most reviews of my work or articles about me. We were each other’s best friend and confidante — though I tried not to disturb Ray with bad news of any kind, unless it was necessary.

On Raymond Smith

Mark Sarvas reports the death of Raymond Smith, husband of Joyce Carol Oates. Oates’ wrote about their relationship often in her diary: here’s the entry for November 24, 1979, taken from her collected diary entries published last year:

Yesterday, the nineteenth anniversary of our engagement. Since we had been seeing each other every day for a month, having meals together, studying together in Ray’s apartment, we came to the conclusion that we might as well get married: which necessitated becoming engaged. It all happened rather quickly, yet not dizzyingly, I had anticipated from the first that we would be married–though perhaps not so quickly–we planned originally for June, when my semester was over and I had my M.A. But it soon came to seem impractical. And so January–January 23–and that was it. (And I went about afterward thinking, and occasionally even saying aloud, how marvelous marriage was–how one couldn’t imagine, beforehand–simply couldn’t imagine. The transition from “I” to “we.” No, one simply can’t imagine…. And I rather doubt that I can imagine the reverse, either.