Elaine Showalter, a Washington area feminist scholar who occasionally reviews for Book World, sends in this item about her friend and former colleague:
Joyce Carol Oates was celebrated Nov. 7 as she retires from the Princeton University Creative Writing Program after 36 years. It was a gala day of tributes from her former students, friends and colleagues. Gathered for a banquet at the university’s Prospect House, the crowd — including Jonathan Ames, Louis Bayard, Christopher Beha, Pinckney Benedict, Henri Cole, Jonathan Safran Foer, A.M. Homes, Walter Kirn, Jeffrey Eugenides, Sheila Kohler, Chang-rae Lee, Jhumpa Lahiri, Susanna Moore, Dexter Palmer, James Richardson, Whitney Terrell, C.K. Williams, Susan Wheeler and Edmund White — was just a tiny sampling of Oates’s enormous literary circle and influence.
A boxing aficionado, Oates was presented with a gilded trophy showing her as a boxer: the Featherweight Champion of the Literary World.
“Unlike writing, an obsessively solitary activity which can be fraught with dissatisfaction, anxiety, frustration and dread, teaching — at Princeton, certainly — has been an unqualified joy,” Oates told the assembled guests. “Because all of my teaching life has been expended upon young writers, it has been a considerable shock to my sensibility that, through this astonishing day, I have had to acknowledge my own personal presence in the teaching experience. I have had to bear up under the scrutiny and consideration of sharp-eyed others, well attuned to tale-telling and the artful creation of anecdotes, some of them wickedly funny. It is the particular fate of an instructor in ‘creative writing’ that her students should be wildly inventive, particularly in regard to her presence in their lives. Indeed, it has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, to throw off invisibility, something like H.G. Wells’s Invisible Man, who wraps cloths around himself to give himself a visible shape, a spurious sort of visible shape, to make an impression in the eyes of others, even if it is a deceptive sort of impression, with an air of the improvised and the comically desperate.”
Dedicating the trophy to her students, she said, “It is not always easy to be proud of oneself, but it is quite easy, indeed a great, radiant, abiding pleasure, to be proud of you.”
Oates will be teaching at Stanford this spring and will continue to teach a fall seminar at Princeton. Retirement as the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities is a technicality, but retirement from teaching and writing is an impossibility.