Joyce Carol Oates is the author, most recently, of A Book of American Martyrs. She is Professor Emerita of Humanities at Princeton and currently a Visiting Professor in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley. (April 2017)


Shirley Jackson in Love & Death

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

by Ruth Franklin

Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery: A Graphic Adaptation

by Miles Hyman
Characterized by the caprice and fatalism of fairy tales, the fiction of Shirley Jackson exerts a mordant, hypnotic spell. No matter how many times one has read “The Lottery,” Jackson’s most anthologized story and one of the classic works of American gothic literature, one is never quite prepared for its slow-gathering momentum, the way in which what appears initially to be random and casual is revealed to be as inevitable as water circling a drain.

Unflinching About Women

Lucia Berlin, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1963

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

by Lucia Berlin, edited and with an introduction by Stephen Emerson, and with a foreword by Lydia Davis
What I hope to do is, by the use of intricate detail, to make this woman so believable you can’t help but feel for her. —Lucia Berlin, “Point of View” In “Point of View,” Lucia Berlin’s most complexly imagined short story, a female writer confides in us, her readers, her …

Joan Didion: Risk & Triumph

Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, Malibu, California, 1977

The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion

by Tracy Daugherty
We are uneasy about a story until we know who is telling it. —Joan Didion, A Book of Common Prayer It is rare to find a biographer so temperamentally, intellectually, and even stylistically matched with his subject as Tracy Daugherty, author of well-received biographies of Donald Barthelme and Joseph Heller, …

Inspiration and Obsession in Life and Literature

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: The Reader Crowned with Flowers (Virgil’s Muse), 1845
This is not a traditional lecture so much as the quest for a lecture in the singular—a quest constructed around a sequence of questions: Why do we write? What is the motive for metaphor? “Where do you get your ideas?” Do we choose our subjects, or do our subjects choose us? Do we choose our “voices”? Is inspiration a singular phenomenon, or does it take taxonomical forms? Indeed, is the uninspired life worth living?

The Remains of the Britons

Kazuo Ishiguro, North London, 2010

The Buried Giant

by Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro’s enigmatic new novel, The Buried Giant, is a coolly orchestrated text in which ideas about human nature, human memory, and the vicissitudes of a war-tormented history constitute the essential drama; it is not a book essentially about the experiences of hapless Briton and Saxon characters as they are moved about the landscape like chess pieces in a game beyond their comprehension.

Witness to the Unknowable

Kabul, Afghanistan, 2001; photograph by Alex Majoli

In the Light of What We Know

by Zia Haider Rahman
“And this, also, has been one of the dark places of the earth.” This mordant pronouncement of the seagoing storyteller Marlow, uttered at the outset of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, seems to reverberate through Zia Haider Rahman’s remarkable postcolonial novel In the Light of What We Know. It is …


The Fighter’s Cruel Art

A still from The Fighter (2010)

The Fighter might more accurately have been titled The Fighter and His Family: it’s a boisterous, brilliantly orchestrated ensemble piece at the paradoxically near-still center of which is an Irish-American boxer (Mark Wahlberg), whose once-promising career, like his grim hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts, is on what appears to be an inevitable downward spiral. Just nominated for seven Academy Awards—including best picture and Christian Bale as supporting actor, the current favorite in that category—the film is based on the life and career of former junior welterweight champion Micky Ward, most famous for his three brutally hard-fought bouts with Arturo Gatti in 2002–2003. It is also a group portrait of working-class Irish-Americans in a blighted, postindustrial landscape: the brawling, clannish, emotionally combustible Ward-Eklund family for whom Micky is the great hope and from whom, if he wants to survive, let alone prevail as a boxer of ambition, he must separate himself.