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The Short Story Artist

Joyce Carol OatesYou may know that the most famous writer of short stories in American literature was a gentleman named O Henry, who wrote great volumes of stories and poems while living in a microscopic stone house in the midst of what is now a parking lot in San Antonio, Texas. We'll save O Henry for another time. Today's article is on Joyce Carol Oates -- a very recognizable and very prolific figure in American literature. She is an author, poet, teacher, editor and publisher, a runner a diarist, and an essayist.

Over the last forty-seven years she has written fifty novels, dozens of plays, numerous books of poetry, and many, many short stories. She has won numerous writing awards, been nominated twice for a pulitzer, and for the last few years has taught creative writing at Princeton University. She is know for creating complex characters, and criticized somewhat for her tendency to steer into themes of sex and violence.

I must admit, that for the most part, I am not fond of her poetry. On the other hand, I have always been a fan of her short story writing. Oates is a master of developing characters, atmosphere, and the arc of a story in a dozen pages without ever seeming rushed. I also like the varied viewpoints she uses for narration.

Below are a collection of first lines from her books and short stories that will be added to Quotation collection #26, Good Starts: http://theotherpages.org/quote-26.html Here, too, she demonstrates a wide range of voices.

By the way, The O Henry Awards are given every year for the best short stories published in the U.S. Joyce Carol Oates won the award in 1967, and has remained a regular contender for decades.


Innocently it began.
Joyce Carol Oates, A Fair Maiden, 2010

The yearning in my heart!
Joyce Carol Oates, Little Bird of Heaven, 2009

One afternoon in September 1919 a young woman factory worker was walking home on the towpath of the Erie barge Canal, east of the small city of Chautauqua Falls, when she began to notice that she was being followed, at a distance of about thirty feet, by a man in a panama hat.
Joyce Carol Oates, The Grave Digger's Daughter, 2007

Ohhh God.
Joyce Carol Oates, Black Girl/White Girl, 2006

At the time unknown, unnamed, the individual who was to throw himself into the Horseshoe Falls appeared to be the gatekeeper of the Goat Island Suspension Bridge at approximately 6:15 A.M.
Joyce Carol Oates, The Falls, 2004

He had known it must happen soon.
Joyce Carol Oates, The Tattooed Girl, 2003

Where she'd died wasn't where she would be found.
Joyce Carol Oates, The Barrens, 2001

How death enters your life.
Joyce Carol Oates, Middle Age: A Romance, 2001

This movie I've been seeing all my life, yet never to its completion.
Joyce Carol Oates, Blonde, 2000

There was a time in the village of Willowsville, New York, population 5,640, eleven miles east of Buffalo, when every girl between the ages of twelve and twenty (and many unacknowledged others besides) was in love with John Reddy Heart.
Joyce Carol Oates, Broke Heart Blues, 1999

We were the Mulvaneys, remember us?
Joyce Carol Oates, We were the Mulvaneys, 1996

God erupted in thunder and shattering glass.
Joyce Carol oates, What I Lived For, 1994

The rented Toyota, driven with such impatient exuberance by The Senator, was speeding along the unpaved unnamed road, taking the turns in giddy, skidding slides, and then, with no warning, somehow the car had gone off the road and had overturned in black rushing water, listing to its passenger's side, rapidly sinking.
Joyce Carol Oates, Black Water, 1992

She wanted very much to know why, yet she dreaded knowing why, her son, newly home after four months away, was avoiding her.
Joyce Carol Oates, Goose-Girl, 1991

The other day, it was a sunswept windy
March morning, I saw my grandmother staring at me, those deep-socketed eyes, that translucent skin, a youngish woman with very dark hair as I hadn't quite remembered her who had died while I was in college, years ago, in 1966.
Joyce Carol Oates, Why Don't You Come Live With
Me It's Time, 1991

In the unmarked government sedan with the olive-tinted windows, en route to the consul-general's residence in a leafier, less traffice- and bicycle-clogged part of the city, the cultural attache's wife leaned forward to tell
Caroline Carmichael, in a lowered voice, "You won't mention this to anyone tonight, of course, Miss Carmichael--but Mr. Price has been under a good deal of pressure lately."
Joyce Carol Oates, American, Abroad, 1991

"Little Red" Garlock, sixteen years old, skull smashed soft as a rotten pumpkin and body dumped into the Cassadaga River near the foot of Pitt Street, must not have sunk as he'd been intended to sink, or floated as far.
Joyce Carol Oates, Because It Is Bitter, and Becaue It Is My Heart, 1990

There are stories that go unaccountably wrong and become impermeable to the imagination.
The Swimmers, Joyce Carol Oates, 1989

How subtly the season of mourning shaded into a season of envy.
Joyce Carolo Oates, House Hunting, 1988

Not once upon a time, but a few years ago.
Joyce Carol Oates, You Must Remember This, 1987

It was a mild, fragrant evening in late September, several weeks after he had moved to Glenkill, Pennsylvania, to begin teaching at the Glenkill Academy for Boys, that Monica Jensen was introduced to Sheila Trask at a crowded reception in the head-master's residence.
Joyce Carol Oates, Solstice, 1985

They are sitting at opposite ends of the old horsehair sofa waiting for something to happen.
Joyce Carol Oates, The Assignation: A Book of Hours, 1975

Jesse wakes, startled.
Joyce Carol Oates, Wonderland, 1971

One warm evening in August 1969 a girl in love stood before a mirror.
Joyce Carol Oates, Them, 1969

I was a child murderer.
Joyce Carol Oates, Expensive People, 1968

On that day many years ago a rattling Ford truck carrying twenty-nine farmworkers and their children sideswiped a local truck carrying hogs to Little Rock on a rain-slick country highway.
A Garden of Earthly Delights, 1967


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