REVIEW: Joyce Carol Oates – Visiting Writers Series


Acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates took the audience of Butler University’s Clowes Memorial Hall by surprise with her witty humor and storytelling.  

Oates, 77, has written numerous novels, short stories, poems and memoirs in her lifetime. She received awards such as the O’Henry Award and National Book Award and been a finalist for five Pulitzer Prizes.

Oates’ prose career has spanned the past 49 years, more than twice the age of some people in the audience at her latest appearance at Butler University Sept. 28.

The evening began with Oates showing her sense of humor. Te crowd chuckled as she described her happiness at arriving safely to Butler and not perishing in a plane crash.

Oates then quipped about making bad jokes. “If you have to explain a joke on Twitter, it’s a complete failure.”

Tristan Durst, a first-year MFA and creative writing student at Butler University, said she was not sure what to expect when Oates came on stage but hoped she would be funny and relatable.

“I’m not even good at Twitter,” Durst said. “So it’s funny that she talked about it.”

Oates devoted the majority of the evening to reading an excerpt from her latest memoir, “The Lost Landscape.” The chapter she read was narrated by her childhood pet, Happy Chicken.

The story of the little girl, Joyce Carol, and her special chicken drew a picture of life on the farm.

Happy Chicken described the secret conversations and kisses he shared with his owner and best friend. Oates only paused in her narrative to tell the audience details, such as the fact that the chicken was an “honorary boy hen.”

The entertaining and amusing nature of Oates’ dialogue caught many in the audience by surprise. One of these people was Jessica Burkey, a pre-pharmacy student at Butler.

“I was really surprised that she was funny,” said Burkey. “It made it better that she stopped and interjected little tidbits.”

After the narrative, Oates took several questions from audience members. She explained her fixations on boxing and Marilyn Monroe and fielded questions about what happens after her novel “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

Oates also revealed that she has 400 pages for the possible beginnings of stories, giving her fans hope for a new novel to come.