Joyce Carol Oates Reads to Packed Auditorium at Seton Hall University

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – “How do you kill a person, he is asking? How does a person die, he is asking.” 

These are the first lines in the short story that Joyce Carol Oates read at Seton Hall University’s Poetry-in-the-Round event Tuesday night. The title is “San Quentin” and it is based largely on her experience teaching writing workshops at the prison. 

This Poetry-in-the-Round took place in the Jubilee Hall Auditorium in order to accommodate the large audience; the auditorium was filled to capacity. Oates’ visit drew faculty, students and members of the South Orange community.

Sign Up for E-News

Oates shared information about her writing process and inspirations, as well as responding to questions from the audience about her work.

“When I went to San Quentin, it was enormously impressive to me,” she said.  “I’ve written a couple of short stories about the experience.”  She taught a class of about 15 students, ranging from ages 30 to 60.  “Most of the prisoners who wrote are quite hypnotized and captivated by the fact that they are in prison,” she said. 

The inmate student who inspired “San Quentin,” she said, was in particular mesmerized by the fact that he had killed someone. “He said that he would wake up at night and sort of see this person standing by his bed. And the question was why? Why did I do that?  Why did I throw away my life? What does it mean to kill a person?” 

The story experiments with voices, and Oates called it, “a really unusual and eerie kind of a poetic sinister illustration.”

Oates admitted that she likes to write about themes that have to do with the criminal justice system, about people who are unfairly prosecuted and never indicted or arrested for a crime. “These people go into a limbo,” she said. “In the eyes of the community and in their own family, they are considered guilty. To me that is a very interesting subject.”   

Oates then read from another recent piece, titled “Brutal Murder in a Public Place,” that also experiments with different voices.  The story was inspired by Oates’ experience at Newark Airport where a furiously chirping and trapped bird had drawn her attention. 

“You do see birds trapped,” she said. “People sort of smile at them as if they were cute, but their lives are very short and they probably will die very soon and I just felt how easy it would have been to be born a sparrow.” 

The two stories next to each other reveal that Oates is constantly pushing herself to inhabit the voices of people who aren’t usually heard. “I’m also interested in people who can’t speak for themselves,” Oates admitted. 

Oates never thought of herself as a writer: “I never really thought that I would be published or would become a writer.  Or I thought after my first books were published maybe they wouldn’t be published again.” 

What Oates truly loves is teaching.  Her own influences are vast, but she did cite E.L. Doctorow and John Updike. In particular she names James Joyce as a beautiful and sensuous poetic writer. 

“The profound difference between us is that Joyce did not believe in writing about violence, whereas I think that one cannot escape that, and I tend to focus on contemporary experiences,” she said, “and some of them are violent.” 

Joyce shared her unique writing process with the audience. “I like to do a lot of walking and running, and when I run or walk kind of nervously quick, I feel a sort of a nervous excitement,” she said.  “And when I’m walking or running really fast, I think about what I’m writing like a little movie, I see maybe 8 minutes of a little film.” 

Her advice to aspiring writers: “Read what you want to read, read what is interesting to you and exciting.  Through reading will grow the desire to write.”


TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Columbia High School Principal's Removal Raises More Questions Than It Answers

The last Twitter post from Columbia High School principal Elizabeth Aaron is very telling. 

The four-year CHS schools chief, who was recently, surprisingly, reassigned to a vague “Principal on Special Assignment” post by the school district, was a Twitter regular on her @CougarPrincipal account. There she would often promote the school’s successes and notable staff and ...


AtlantiCast: Episode 18

On this week’s AtlantiCast, you’ll find out how accessing care at Atlantic Health System is now easier, more affordable and closer to home than ever, learn which item from the produce aisle could be the newest weapon against cancer, see what Atlantic Health System, the New York Times and Instagram all have in common and much more.



Maplewood Police Blotter - Stolen Vehicle in Maplewood Recovered by South Orange Police

July 18, 2018

July 11 - Motor Vehicle Theft; Sometime during the early morning hours, a vehicle was stolen from a residence on the 400 block of Richmond Ave. The vehicle was recovered by the South Orange Police Department the same morning.

Maplewood Police Blotter - Two Robberies Reported on July 5

July 2 - Motor Vehicle Theft; Sometime over the previous two days, a U-Haul truck was stolen from a business on Newark Way.

July 4 - Theft from Auto; During the overnight hours an unsecured vehicle parked on Elberta Rd was entered and keys were stolen from it.

July 5 - Robberies; At approximately 1:30 a.m., a male was assaulted by two males ridding bicycles while he was walking on ...

Free 'Movies in the Park' on July 18 and August 23 in Maplewood

July 16, 2018

MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Free "Movies in the Park" are planned for Wednesday, July 18, and Thursday, August 23, a program hosted by the Maplewood Police Department in conjunction with the Maplewood Recreation Department, the Maplewood Office of Cultural Affairs, SOMA Film Festival and SOMA Municipal Alliance.

The movie on July 18 will be The Incredibles, shown in Dehart Park, ...

National Weather Service Issues Heat Advisory Through 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 17

NEW YORK, NY, - The National Weather Service issued a 'Heat Advisory' this morning for Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Union and Hudson Counties in New Jersey. The heat advisory will remain in effect from noon Monday July 16, until 6 p.m. Tuesday July 17.

Extreme heat can cause illness and death among at- risk population who cannot stay cool. The heat and humidity may cause heat stress during ...

Upcoming Events


Thu, July 26, 6:00 PM

River Barge Park & Marina, Carlstadt

Meadowlands Discovery Sunset Eco-Cruise

Green Travel

Fri, July 27, 6:30 PM

Calloway's Restaurant & Bar, Staffordville

Family Promise SOC Fundraiser at Calloway's

Food & Drink Giving Back


Fri, July 27, 7:00 PM

Par 440 Restaurant & Lounge, Short Hills

The Extra Rich In Class Dinner Show with E.R.I.C.

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink


Fri, July 27, 7:00 PM

Par 440 Restaurant & Lounge, Short Hills

The Extra Rich In Class Dinner Show with E.R.I.C.

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink

Statement From Emergency Committee to Reinstate Principal Aaron

July 10, 2018


We created a movement. We leveraged our collective 1,600 voices and forced the District leadership to sit with us today [Monday] and discuss the poorly communicated, weekend announcement that CHS Principal Elizabeth Aaron was being reassigned.

Our meeting was a first step in both accountability and transparency as Dr. Ficarra revealed Principal ...

Coalition on Race Responds to Changes in School District Administrators

The Board of Trustees of the Community Coalition on Race seeks racial equity, integration, and excellence in education for all students in our schools. While the pace of change has been frustratingly slow, we have seen some progress. Yet, candidly, there are too many students of color who are not well served in SOMA, who still experience segregated classrooms and who still suffer from racial ...

Rutgers-Newark Athletic Field Renamed to Honor Frederick Douglass

July 22, 2018

NEWARK, NJ – Long before Rutgers University-Newark created an athletic field on University Avenue, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered an address in 1849 at a church that once stood there.

Rutgers Board of Governors approved a resolution to rename the field in honor of the time Douglass spent here. The field will now be called the Frederick Douglass ...

Those Boarded-Up Homes in the West Ward? Newark Has a Plan for Them.

NEWARK, NJ - The city is using the power of eminent domain to reduce the number of condemned homes and vacant lots scattered throughout the West Ward.

The redevelopment plan for the West Ward was introduced in 2016 and encompasses properties from the border of Irvington to South 13th Street between South Orange Avenue and 16th Avenue. One of the main goals of the plan is to support new ...

Rutgers Hikes Tuition, Student Fees for 2018-2019 Academic Year

July 18, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University Board of Governors today approved a 2.3 percent hike in tuition and fees, as well as increases for dorm rooms and meals, for the 2018-2019 academic year.

The increase now brings the annual cost for undergraduate students to $14,975, which is $337 more than this past school year.

Student housing will increase 1.9 percent, and ...

NJ Residents Take Action Against White Supremacist Fliers Found Around Bridgewater, Bedminster, Other Local Areas

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Residents of Bridgewater, Somerville, Morristown and surrounding communities are mobilizing for action after they found posters around town promoting Identity Evropa, which the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has labeled a white supremacist group.

According to Bridgewater resident Stacey Friedlander, a member of the “Not In Our Town – Bridgewater/Raritan” ...

Weekly Specials at Ashley Marketplace - July 20 to July 26

July 22, 2018

Shop Ashley Marketplace & Cafe for your everyday needs!

This week's specials are:          

Klondike Ice Cream Sandwiches 25.3oz $5.99
Driscoll’s Raspberries 6oz $2.99
Looza Juice 33.8floz $3.99
Meat Lasagna $7.99lb (Prep Food)
Almond Breeze Almond Milk 64floz $3.79
Black Angus Bone In Rib Steak $8.98lb ...

Woolley Home Solutions Building Has Unique Historical Stained Glass Window

Have you ever spotted this Stained Glass Window on our building? It's compliments of the first Methodist Church in town. The repairman saw our 1924 Autocar Truck parked outside and created this beautiful piece and installed it in our front window. The church was knocked down years ago and its location is now Walgreen's parking lot.

The church was originally built in 1836 when Maplewood ...

New Plumber Joins the Woolley Home Solutions Team

We are excited to announce a new addition to the Woolley team! Our new plumber, Oscar Buonafina, is an expert plumber with nearly a decade of industry experience serving New Jersey homeowners. He is also a NJ Master Plumber Since 2007. As a military veteran, Oscar truly understands hard work and commitment, and we’re so happy to bring him on board!

"I believe in service to people ...