Sunday, February 24, 2008

Immersion and sympathy

I live book by book, deadline by deadine, immersed in worlds imagined and reported. Certain writers are always present in my mind: boon companions, scouts, guides, goads. Enigmas and friends. Joyce Carol Oates is a constant presence. Her books stay with me, deep-swimming sea creatures, luminous and pressing in the dark. The power of her fiction, its risks, and insights; the complexity of her work, the many masks she wears and the consistency and courage of her vision: all inspire and incite me. My fascination is fed by her essays and The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, 1973 - 1982. And ever since Joyce Carol Oates was invited to participate in Columbia College Chicago's Story Week this March, and ever since I was invited to speak with her onstage on March 17, I've been thinking about how to approach her work. What questions to ask, what subjects to raise. And now I'm thinking of Ms. Oates with great sympathy, having learned of the death of her husband, Raymond Smith. Her anchor.

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