Joyce Carol Oates has been named the current Dark Lady of American Letters (after Mary McCarthy and Susan Sontag)—a designation given to an intellectual woman writer who challenges the categorization of “woman” writer.

Born on June 16, 1938, Oates was raised, along with two younger siblings, in the rural upstate New York town of Millersport. Oates's mother was a homemaker; her father a machinist. Her paternal grandmother lived with the family and was a key supporter of Oates's writing, giving her a portable typewriter for her 14th birthday. Oates received a scholarship to Syracuse University and earned a B.A. in 1960 as class valedictorian. While at Syracuse, she won a Mademoiselle writing prize (the same one Sylvia Plath had won a few years earlier). In ...

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