After hearing Joyce Carol Oates discuss suicide and sexuality, community members lined up Monday night to have their copies of her newest novel signed by the author.
Speaking to more than 110 people at University Theatre, Oates — the prolific author of novels, nonfiction essays, plays, poems, short stories and literary critiques — read from “The Fall,” her most recent work. Her talk, hosted by The Yale Bookstore Author Series, focused on the complex social issues of the time period in which the book was set.
“I wanted to write about the curiosity of sexual mores of the 1950s,” Oates, a humanities professor at Princeton University, said. “It was a time before the liberation consciousness.”
“The Fall” describes a widowed bride’s recovery after her sexually confused bridegroom commits suicide on their wedding night. In her talk, Oates described the difficulties of writing about such abstract ideas as death.
“Writing about death is like writing about the extremes of the mind,” Oates said. “There are romantic ideas of suicide— something that’s actually ugly.”
But Oates said the ultimate theme of the book is not the romantic notion of suicide. Instead, she said, it is about the lure of suicide and how people triumph over that attraction through love and others.
Oates discussed the social differences between the current day and the 1950s, when no women’s rights, gay, bisexual or sexual consciousnesses existed, she said.
“No one came out in the 1950s,” she said. “Not even heterosexuals came out in the 1950s.”
Oates extended her comments on 1950s society to the topic of marriage, as exemplified in her novel. She said women were desperate to get married without knowing what they were getting into.
Oates also spoke extensively about her personal writing style, which she said is focused on writing dialogue.
“The process of writing is something that I live with everyday,” she said. “I try to have dialogue in the center of chapters. It’s the living part of the narrative.”
Oates also drew laughs from the crowd while describing her personal writing routine.
“The process of writing for me is taking lots of notes, for months,” she said. “I run a lot. I’m happy when running, trying to avoid the inevitable dark thoughts that hit us right before the election.”
Yale Bookstore general manager Neil LeBeau said Oates’ visit to campus generated excitement among community members.
“We pitched to get her to come here, and she agreed,” he said. “She was very happy to come to campus today. People are very happy.”
Stephanie Cunnane ’07 said she was impressed with Oates’ witty commentary.
“She’s very intelligent,” Cunnane said. “Seeing her showed a lot of the humor you wouldn’t see from just reading her books.”
In her over 35 years as a writer, Oates has earned much recognition, including two nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature and a National Book Award for her novel “them.” Her 1993 novel “Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang” was adapted to film in 1996.