Monday, December 10, 2007

Does Joyce Carol Oates Have to Be a Good Speaker?

Dear Joyce: I know who told you that the three speeches at the [name omitted] University event must all be finished by 6:00 p.m., and that as the luminary, the star of the show, you must assume the podium last. You did so explaining that your speech had been written to fill 35 minutes, but that someone [name omitted, by both you and me] had implied that something awful would happen if we weren't all outta there by 6:00 p.m., so you'd skip through and make it 20 minutes.

So your talk on "The Writer's (Secret) Life: Woundedness, Rejection, and Inspiration," that we were all so hot to hear got clipped. My heart sank as you said, paging through your text, “I’m skipping here. . . I’ll have to skip this. . .” Mostly you read good quotations and biographical bits, and even made some high-literate jokes ("To tell one's name the livelong day to an admiring Blog”). We liked you, and laughed, and you looked fffabulous – tall and skinny, pre-Raphaelite face and rippling hair – can you be 69 years old? Unbelievable!). You even cared enough to wear cool earrings (they signify friendliness). But yours was not the happenin' speech that we, your fans, hoped to hear.

Yeah, but on reflection, who decided that writers had to do everything? Write well, get the right publishers, publish a lot, win prizes, teach well, look well, be friendly, gracious, amusing, helpful, open, socially adept, generous, available, witty, succinct and inspiring speakers, perceptive social commentators, and politically correct? And spokespeople too for their race, their gender, their faith, their politics, their genre? And all the while shrewdly and subtly sell themselves and their wares? Holy mackerel! People don’t expect even God to do all that! But I could clearly see that's what you aimed for!

Enough already! For the artificial difficulties thrown in your way, you did fine, and I hope you got scads of money for appearing. Perhaps $8,000 (that’s what Jonathan Kozol, the anti-segregationist writer and educator, charges, last I heard). – Your Admirer and Fan.

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