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Call for Articles: The Short Stories of Joyce Carol Oates

Special Issue of Journal of the Short Story in English (JSSE 84)
Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 June 2024

Presentation

Joyce Carol Oates has been praised as a master of the short story form and has consistently published short fiction since the beginning of her career, with stories frequently reprinted in various prize collections. She has also been writing about fiction theory for nearly as long as she has been writing fiction. Her first published work, a short story, “In the Old World,” appeared in 1959 and certain short essays such as “Building Tension in the Short Story” were published as early as 1966.

  • 1 Vincent Jaury, "Le grand entretien: Joyce Carol Oates," Transfuge 29 (2009): 58.

In spite of this, Oates continues to be most known for her novels, and the majority of the critical studies on her work are based primarily on her novels. As early as 1979, G. F. Waller, in his Dreaming America: Obsession and Transcendence in the Fiction of Joyce Carol Oates, one of the first full-length critical volumes on Oates’s work, speculates that Oates’s best work may perhaps be found in her short stories, though he—as many of his colleagues then and since—dedicates the main body of his work to a study of her novels. Oates, herself, has at times seemingly confirmed this stance as her most exalted comments have been reserved for the novel form which she has called “the most ‘stimulating’ of all literary genres.”1 She has commented that writing short stories affords a welcome break between longer, more fatiguing projects.

Yet Oates’s unfailing devotion to the form (with more than 35 published story collections) somehow counteracts this seemingly offhand attitude. What portrait of the author emerges if we shift our attention momentarily to her short fiction? Does it remain the portrait fleshed out by studies of her novels? Can analysis of her short fiction provide a more nuanced portrait? Or does it lead to a quite different one altogether? Such a question has largely been avoided by many scholars, forced to make difficult choices due to the sheer volume of Oates’s production over such a sustained period. It is high time, however, that scholars turn a critical eye towards Oates’s short fiction production.

Oates’s prolificity and wide-ranging writerly interests (short stories, novellas, novels, critical essays, book reviews, etc.) have created a privileged position from which to analyze the interplay between critical and fictional ideas at work over a lengthy and productive career which has continually involved the publication of both short stories and critical commentary on the form, as well as fellow practitioners, both classic and contemporary.

Throughout her career, Oates seems to have struggled with the contradictory impulses of the critic and teacher to theorize, and of the artist to evolve free of constraints, as illustrated in a 1981 comment to Sanford Pinsker:

  • 2 Sanford Pinsker, "Speaking about Short Fiction: An Interview with Joyce Carol Oates" (1981), Conver (...)

Those of us who love the practice of an art often hate theorizing because it is always theorizing based upon past models: as such, it must inevitably incline toward the conservative, the reactionary, the exhortative, the school of should and should not.2

  • 3 Ibid, 98.

However, from those periods in her career in which the critical impulse holds sway, a complete vision of the short story form may be compiled. For, though Oates claims to maintain a healthy “skepticism about literary terms,3 she is quite adept at employing and discussing them.

Frequently criticized for recourse to violence in her fiction, Oates denies any gratuitous use of it, elaborating, rather, a strict theoretical framework to govern its presence: violence that erupts in fiction must never come first or be merely the result of an accident, it must always be the result of tension carefully constructed by the author. Thirty years on, Oates points again to the role of violence in the story. In the American Gothic mode in which she writes, violence is generally the result of assaults to individual autonomy and identity as she remarks in her 1996 introduction to the collection American Gothic Tales. Indeed, though she sometimes chooses to emphasize related words such as “tension” and “conflict,” the concept of violence remains central to her short story theory throughout her career.

In putting together this special issue, the guest editor would like to focus attention on Joyce Carol Oates’s extensive short story production for consideration in its own right, not simply as an inferior form produced in the interim between nobler novels. Contributors to this special issue are invited to submit articles on any aspect of Joyce Carol Oates’s short fiction, including, but not limited to, those listed below.

Expected Proposals

Topics contributors might discuss include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • lexical, thematic and structural characteristics, and their uses

  • relationship between formal patterns and characterization

  • experimental formal techniques

  • formal, thematic and stylistic evolution throughout Oates’s career

  • themes of predilection: tragedy, evil, consequences of violence, dealing with trauma

  • an Oatesian poetics of the short story?

  • sudden or micro fiction

  • short story cycles

  • intertextuality

  • inspiration and models

  • parody

  • narrative voice and narrative strategies

  • repeated motifs, images, settings, characters, situations, etc.

  • lyricism

  • feminism

  • mysteries of life.

Practical Details

Proposals of 400 to 500 words should be sent by 15 June 2024 along with a bibliography, and a short bio-bibliography to tanya.tromble@gmail.com. Completed articles will be due by 30 January 2025.

Notes

1 Vincent Jaury, "Le grand entretien: Joyce Carol Oates," Transfuge 29 (2009): 58.

2 Sanford Pinsker, "Speaking about Short Fiction: An Interview with Joyce Carol Oates" (1981), Conversations with Joyce Carol Oates, ed. Lee Milazzo, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989, 96.

3 Ibid, 98.

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