First aired on The Sunday Edition (05/15/11)
Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most prolific and accomplished American writers working today. She has more than 50 books to her name and has received numerous awards including the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in short fiction. However, for Oates, the rewards of her literary career paled in comparison to the relationship she had with her husband, Raymond Smith.
When Smith unexpectedly passed away, on February 18, 2008, Oates fell apart. Her life as she knew it -- teacher at Princeton, a writer of fiction and short stories and wife to Raymond -- was over. "I was a zombie," Oates revealed to The Sunday Edition host Michael Enright in a recent interview. "The whole writing side of my life seemed so vain and trivial."
Yet it was this very act that kept Oates going. The avid keeper of a journal since 1970, Oates continued to chronicle her life and feelings every day, and often through the night. She never intended to turn this raw material into a book. "I'm not sure that I had any purpose other than getting through the night. At night, I would write in the journal," she said. Oates would write well into the morning, until she saw the sun rising and heard the birds singing, signalling that she had made it to another day.
Oates' consuming grief is evident in the pages of A Widow's Story, an open, painful examination of what it takes to face life alone after more than 40 years of marriage. During her darkest time, she even contemplated suicide. But she persevered, continuing to teach and write. She continued to be "Joyce Carol Oates" publicly, even though, in her personal life, "Joyce Smith" was falling apart.
What saved her? Time. Occasionally, she would find moments of strength during periods of darkness -- which Oates refers to as "sinkholes." "There was a moment later on, when I realized that I had a very good marriage," she said. "I should feel grateful instead of feeling sorry for myself."
Despite the difficulty of riding out her mood swings, Oates kept going. She made it through each day. "I wasn't eating right and I was very depressed. But I kept going," she said. "And I'm just going to be happy that I kept myself alive."
Joyce Carol Oates will be interviewed by Jane Urqhart on June 15 as part of the Luminato Festival in Toronto, Ontario. For details, visit the Luminato website.
A Widow's Story
Joyce Carol Oates
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From Harper Collins:
"In a work unlike anything she's written before, National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates unveils a poignant, intimate memoir about the unexpected death of her husband of forty-six years and its wrenching, surprising aftermath.
'My husband died, my life collapsed.'"
Read more at Harper Collins Canada