Queen of the doorstoppers

Sep 28, 2005 at 12:00 am

Amid 300 gray- and white-haired folks, mostly from the suburban east side of Detroit, the prolific American writer Joyce Carol Oates made a rare and welcome return to metropolitan Detroit to give a reading from her latest novel, Missing Mom (Ecco, $25.95, 448 pp.), at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial recently. A long preamble established Oates’ affinity to the Motor City, where in 1962 she took her first teaching post at the University of Detroit and taught for six years before moving on to the University of Windsor. She has spent the last three decades as a humanities professor at Princeton.

Despite her full-time teaching, Oates’ legendary, abundant output shows no sign of letting up. Besides the October release of Missing Mom, a hefty 448-page story about the emotional life of a young female reporter, Oates has also recently published Uncensored: Views & (Re)views (Ecco, $24.95), an anthology of mostly book reviews printed over the last five years.

In 1969, Oates won the National Book Award for Them, a novel based in Detroit involving the 1967 riots, written while she was living in the Palmer Park neighborhood. At the recent reading, she admitted that the influence of the Motor City in her work is diminishing, but she still thinks of our streets often: “I do a lot of dreaming about Detroit. The experience will always be with me because this is where I lived when I first began my writing career. I was taken in by the influence.”

Mary Lindell is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]