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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 12 short thematic essays and an interview, all previously published, the hyper-prolific author of novels (Blonde), story collections (Faithless), plays (In Darkest America) and poems (Tenderness) examines the writing life, aiming to focus on "the process of writing more than the uneasy, uncertain position of being a writer." Oates advises young writers to read widely, takes a nostalgic glance back at childhood influences, waxes poetic on the joys of running and its relation to writing, and tackles the inner trajectories of the creative process. The essays are peppered with anecdotes concerning writers' trials, doubts and influences; these well-selected snippets form the most enjoyable and illuminating aspect of the book. If Oates's own insights don't always live up to the wit and beauty of such quoted authors as T.S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence, it may be because she gives herself comparatively little room to wrestle with such broad concepts as inspiration and failure. Oates's suggestion that writers as a breed apart may irritate the "ordinary reader" she refers to (whom, she suggests, might not know that "no story writes itself") and may even make writers uncomfortable (to write, she says, is to "invite angry censure from those who don't write, or who don't write in quite the way you do....Art by its nature is a transgressive act, and artists must accept being punished for it"). But Oates obviously understands the faith that writing, that "juncture of private vision and the wish to create a communal, public vision" takes, and young writers especially may find words of wisdom here.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Few can match Oates in the breadth, depth, and passion of her literary experiences and expertise. In her newest and most confiding essay collection, she generously shares the private side of her story-steeped life, musing over the one-room schoolhouse in rural New York State she so loved, the now cellular influence of Alice in Wonderland, and the nearly symbiotic connection between running and writing ("Joyce runs like a deer!" she recalls a boy exclaiming, a memory not as benign as it might seem, given the brute intentions of her pursuers). Art is a mystery, born most often of pain, Oates attests as she shrewdly and beguilingly dissects the quirkiness of inspiration and the unexpected felicity of failure, the enigma of the imagination and the necessity of craft. Gloriously well read and unfailingly curious about those who have shared her obsession, most notably Woolf, Lawrence, James, and Faulkner, Oates is commanding in her knowledge and deeply moving in her candor, such as when she notes that people always ask how she writes so much, rather than why. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (September 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060565543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060565541
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #566,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of more than 70 books, including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde. Among her many honors are the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the National Book Award. Oates is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Bohdan Kot on January 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Joyce Carol Oates is a prodigious talent, both in volume and quality. One is in awe of the numerous titles from various genres - novel, poetry, play, essay and novella - for which she has published and received critical acclaim within the past forty years. Who is more qualified than Oates to assemble "The Faith of a Writer," a collection of essays written over a large span of years (many published earlier) that explore the craft of writing? Oates says the collection is "meant to be undogmatic, provisional."

This is not a how-to write book, but rather, a personal take how Oates and other writers like Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and several other notables approach the craft of writing. The most interesting essay, "Notes on Failure," examines the helpful role failure can play when striving for memorable writing. Oates discusses James Joyce's difficulty in getting his first novel published before he wrote the classic "Ulysses." In response to the repeated rejections, "Joyce retreated, and allowed himself ten years to write a masterpiece."

Oates also ponders topics such as inspiration, her early childhood influences, reading as a writer, and self-criticism. Her tone throughout each short essay is crisp and direct, often compelling and endearing, like a schoolteacher who always demands the best. Oates stresses that writing when done well, like any other artistic endeavor, is a craft. She believes, "inspiration and energy and even genius are rarely enough to make `art': for prose fiction is also a craft, and craft must be learned."

Oates' slender volume is a beautiful rumination and worthy addition to her large catalog of work. She manages to pin down and examine the elusive nature of the muse.

Bohdan Kot
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By MICHAEL ACUNA on October 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Since I have read so many of JC Oates' works over the years, it was with a little trepidation that I approached "The Faith of a Writer." Reading a lot of any writer's works gives you the feeling that you know the author as well as any member of your family or your circle of best friends. So, reading something directly from Oates about her inspirations, her craft and how she goes about actually producing her works was a bit scary for me. It's like meeting a favorite movie star in a one-on-one situation: what if she isn't as smart, as witty, as nice, as perceptive, as devilish as he appears on screen...or in Oates' case, on the written page.
But like listening to a good friend relate stories of her life and how she goes about her craft, Oates enlightens rather than frightens: she adds additional insight to her works of fiction rather than tear down my perceptions of them.
Oates on writers: (they have)..."an affinity for risk, danger, mystery, a certain derangement of the soul; a craving for distress, the predilection for insomnia." And as an extension Oates states these are the people who create "the highest form of the human spirit, Art."
Going against the common notion that we should write what we know (and Oates's works certainly support this contention): "The artist can inhabit any individual for the individual is irrelevant to art."
Like most great artists, Oates writes because she can't help it, it's in her blood and anyone who has read any of her works would have to agree that there are drops of blood as well as sweat on each page of her work.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Sprix on January 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a lovely piece, not meant to be a guide on how to write, which I think the negative reviewers are in need of, but rather it is a brief glimpse at her creative process. She is in love with the written word, and this book is no less eloquent than any of the novels or short stories she has written.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Cory Fosco on October 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
This review was written as an assignment for a graduate school course in the creative writing program at Northwestern University:

"The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art" by Joyce Carol Oates

Publisher: Ecco

Number of Pages: 176

Year Published: September 23, 2003

Price: Paperback version is $11.95; hardcover version is $21.95 (Paperback is widely available and discounted at; Hardcover version is available through, but via other sellers (used); also available at the Northwestern University Library).

Ideal Audience: This book would be useful in many classroom settings. The youngest audience would probably be high school level junior and senior "Introduction to Creative Writing" students. If used in an undergraduate or graduate level creative writing setting, the essays would be best utilized as both inspiration and models for future individual writing. This would also be very helpful in a "Continuing Education" program, possibly associated with a local community center, library or community college.

Brief Summary: This book contains 12 essays and a brief interview with Oates (led by Greg Johnson). The essays explore Oates' inspirations and motivations for becoming a writer. She offers specific advice to young writers ("write your heart out" and to read as often as they can. Oates touches on her first memories as a child and how the book, "Alice in Wonderland," had a profound affect on her life. She also examines her passion for running and illustrates how running feeds her mind and allows her to be very creative. Other essays discuss failure, inspiration (of other writers), how to read as a writer, the process of self-criticism, and a glimpse of Oates' writing studio.
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