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    How Oprah changed Joyce Carol Oates’ life.

    Janet Manley

    August 4, 2023, 1:02pm

    We are in the countdown to the Joyce Carol Oates documentary (September 8, for those playing along at home), and JCO has given the Financial Times, of all people, a neat dose of her thoughts on life, the cosmos, and Xitter. Among the various gems nestled into Madison Garbyshire’s profile, one piece stuck out.

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    Oates is relaying her thoughts on marriage (ideally, a friendship) and that of her parents, explaining that she didn’t much consider who her mother was as a person since her father loomed larger as a character, and somewhat drove the bus when it came to their partnership.

    That is, until Oprah Winfrey asked to interview Oates’ mother for a feature:

    Her mother told her about being given away to a childless couple at nine months old, after Oates’s grandfather was murdered in a tavern. “My mother started talking about this as if it was yesterday. It happened 84 years ago and she was crying on the phone.”

    “It tore my heart out,” she says, and the experience inspired her novel Missing Mom. “That was one of the revelations of my life. And all because of Oprah.”

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    Incredible to make it to adulthood without knowing that your mother was put up for adoption after her father was murdered?

    Oates’ 2005 novel Missing Mom follows Nikki as she tries to figure what dark thing happened for her mother Gwen to disappear. In a very spirited New York Times review of the book, Stacey D’Erasmo writes:

    blood will out, blood is thicker than water, blood ties, flesh and blood, blood on the tracks, young blood, first blood, blood on the sheets, on the walls, blood running through the veins, running in the streets. Everything, over the vast terrain of Oatesiana, ultimately comes down to this basic element, sign of life and, often, of brutal force.

    On the other side of the family tree, Oates’ paternal grandmother Blanche raised Oates’ father on her own after her husband shot himself. That story was folded into the plot of Gravedigger’s Daughter.

    Oprah, asking the big questions.

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    [h/t Financial Times]

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