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
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 Amazon.com; Hardcover version is available through Amazon.com, 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. The interview was conducted shortly after Oates published her longest novel (752 pages) in 2000, "Blonde."
(From "To a Young Writer"):
Write your heart out. Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject. Your "forbidden" passions are likely to be the fuel for your writing... What advice can an older writer presume to offer a younger? Only what he or she might wish to have been told years ago. Don't be discouraged! Don't cast sidelong glances, and compare yourself to others among your peers! (Writing is not a race. No one really "wins." The satisfaction is in the effort, and rarely in the consequent rewards, if there are any). And again, write your heart out.
(From "First Loves: From "Jabberwocky" to "After Apple Picking"):
There are two primary influences in a writer's life: those influences that come so early in childhood, they seem to soak into the very marrow of our bones and to condition our interpretation of the universe thereafter; and those that come a little later, when we are old enough to exercise some control of our environment, and our response to it, and have begun to be aware not only of the emotional power but the strategies of art.
Strength: This book is very inspirational and filled with models that can be used a "jumping off" points for writers in their own work. It can be a great tool to use in a classroom setting if a teacher prefers not to use writing triggers or prompts to engage the class in an exercise.
Weakness: A big weakness of this book is Oates' inability to dig deeper and reveal her main inspirations for writing. Although there are sections within the material that Oates' opens up and offers a glimpse of herself, overall, the book is about other people and their techniques/inspirations, etc.
Urgency Rating: Moderate; if you plan on teaching any genre of writing it can be useful in many ways, especially as models (versus triggers or prompts). The most useful parts were the following essays: "My Faith as a Writer," because it made me think about my own "faith" as a writer and think about my earliest memories of the importance of writing in my life; "To a Young Writer," because it is very inspirational/motivational--great advice from an accomplished writer; and "Reading as a Writer: The Artist as Craftsman," because it offers great advice about the craft of reading to expand knowledge in our own writing versus reading for enjoyment.