Birnbaum & JCO

Robert Birnbaum talks to Joyce Carol Oates about a bunch of things, including functions of literature, the feeling of mid century America, what she does when she finishes a novel, her next novel, being a teacher, Ploughshares magazine, what she reads, the NEA study claiming the radical decline of reading in America, and many other things.

RB: What gives you a feeling of satisfaction or success after you have written something as large as a novel?

JCO: Well, with a novel like The Falls, which I wrote a few years ago…and then I put my long novels away in a drawer and I wait for a year, and I take them out and reread them and then work on them a little more, revise them. So it’s a process that takes some time. I almost never publish a novel immediately. There is always a lapse of some kind. I write another novel and then I go back to something-I have two novels in drawers right now that are sort of gestating. I will take them out after a year.

RB: So when you write, you don’t immediately start to revise, to get it ready for publication?

JCO: I revise all the time, everyday. I revise every page, all the time.

RB: So when you put a work away, what state is it in?

JCO: It’s finished, but I don’t trust that judgment.