University Welcomes Visiting Writer Joyce Carol Oates

A crowd of about 540 University students and faculty as well as members of the community gathered to listen to a reading by best selling author Joyce Carol Oates as part of the University’s Visiting Writers Series in Pollak Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 13.

“This was the largest crowd we have ever had,” said the Director of the Visiting Writers Series and Associate Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Michael Thomas.

Thomas seemed very happy with the outcome of the event and said that Oates was inspirational and relatable.

Oates opened with explaining that for many writers there is an adrenaline rush present while writing.

“I think that most writers and artists are captivated by their work,” Oates said. “There is a neurological satisfaction when we use our language.”

The speaker shared with the crowd her personal writing process and what motivates her to write.

“I spend a lot of time meditating before I write. I also walk or run because I find that I develop good ideas when I am physical,” Oates explained. “Writing can be a very physical activity.”

“I loved the way she talked about craft,” said Thomas. “I’ve heard hundreds of readings where people talk about the craft and the process and she was one of the best I’ve ever heard in terms of articulating her own process and also how she teaches it. She must be an outstanding professor,” he continued.

Oates is a professor at Princeton University and spoke about how she feels it is the teacher’s job to help the student discover their strengths.

“You have to remember that you are not going to live long enough to care about your weaknesses, so forget about them,” Oates explained.

“I attended because I am a lover of fiction and poetry. It’s great to see the process of the mind of another writer,” said Sara Rimassa, a senior English major.

Oates read a passage from her most recent publication Lovely, Dark, Deep as well as published poetry. “I loved how she read her pros poem, and to me, it shows the talent of a compressed narrative,” Thomas expressed.

“The way she presented the poem, as a narrative was extraordinary, I thought it was beautiful,” Thomas continued.

The author also offered advice to writers regarding how to choose a genre of writing. She explained that a writer has to write about what excites them and said that a good way for a writer to start is to picture their work as a movie and ask themselves what the first scene of the film would be.

“If you can’t envision it, then you shouldn’t write it,” she maintained.

Oates also emphasized the importance of using personal experience when writing, especially when creating characters. “You have to put yourself in your work because the world is filtered through your eyes,” she explained.

“What stood out to me was how personable she was,” said Rimassa. “She is such an accomplished author and she was still able to come here and sit with students. She also had very inspirational quotes.”

Thomas said that one of the goals of the visiting writers series is to bring a sense of community to the University. “The aesthetic experience of reading or hearing a writer brings people together,” he said.

Another goal of the series is to experience the passion within literature. “I think the goal is to enlighten our passions for language, which makes us more human,” Thomas said. “It makes us more compassionate, it makes people feel more alive. It helps them understand others and helps them understand themselves.”

Prior to her reading at Pollak Theatre, Oates also privately met with about 30 students and faculty in the Rechnitz Gallery where a short discussion and Q-and-A was held.

The Monmouth University Library Association sponsored Oates’s visit. Thomas emphasized how he had the support of the association, which made her visit possible.

“They said we would love to help you bring Joyce Carol Oates to campus, so that’s why it happened,” Thomas maintained.

Oates closed by speaking about how she has a great visual imagination. “I try to visualize before writing and look forward to describing landscapes and cities,” she said.

Thomas also spoke about the importance of imagination in regards to fiction writing. “We can never really know people unless we read fiction,” he said. “Often, fiction is put down as imaginative, so therefore not real, but what’s more real than someone’s imagination? The writer is putting it out for the world to see.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Chris Spiegel