Okay, the headline of the post is a bit of a joke. During her a Q&A session at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, author Joyce Carol Oates answered a question about horror literature, of which she has a certain fondness. She seemed slightly embarrassed, acting as if she was afraid her answer might embarrass her if it got out beyond the walls of the Ackerman Ballroom, where she was speaking. With that in mind, we thought we would go right ahead and spread the word she was pretending she wanted kept secret…
Oates is one of America’s great literary writers – the talented author of dozens of stories and novels, she lives in Princeton and also teaches college writing courses. She seems to occupy such a rarefied strata of the literary world that it’s almost hard to conceive that she occasionally dabbles in low-brow genre material. She’s written her fair share of terror stories (which were collected into a fine volume, appropriately titled HAUNTED), and she’s also written essays, introductions, and/or blurbs for the Hellboy graphic novels and for an anthology of fiction by pulp-writer H. P. Lovecraft.
During her appearance at the Festival of Books (where she discussed and signed her new anthology HIGH LONESOME: STORIES 1966-2006), a member of the audience asked about her interest in the horror genre. Oates laughed, almost with guilty pleasure, and said, “Nobody’s recording this — because I don’t want this to get back to Princeton.*”
She then went on to say: “I’ve always had an interest in the Gothic and the surreal, starting with ALICE IN WONDERLAND — although that’s not often thought of as Gothic and surreal, it is. When I was growing up, we didn’t have books; we had comic books. There was one called TALES OF [sic] THE CRYPT which was very formative — or deformative!” As for her interest in Hellboy, she added that the work seen in graphic novels is better and more sophisticated than much that is seen in so-called legitimate novels, such as a genre she derisively termed “Chick-Lit,” and she wound up by saying we should avoid terminology that undervalues the form: “We really shouldn’t call them comics. Graphic novels is the right word.’
So there you have it. The esteemed and respected author, whose work is taught in college courses, grew up reading TALES FROM THE CRYPT and it left a permanent impression that lives on in her mind to this day – an impression she keeps hidden from her colleagues at Princeton (assuming they never happen to pick up a copy of Hellboy or Lovecraft and notice her name on the blur/introduction, of course).
*Just to be clear: I wasn’t recording the event, but Oates knew that the event was being recorded – the Los Angeles Times makes the tapes of author Q&A sessions available for sale. Since I haven’t purchased a copy, my account of her answer is , perforce, a paraphrase from memory, but I think I caught its essence.