Joyce Carol Oates Teaches a New Online Course on the Art of the Short Story

How on Earth does Joyce Car­ol Oates do it? Since her debut 56 years ago she has put out 58 nov­els, not to men­tion her poet­ry, plays, non­fic­tion, diaries, and thou­sands — lit­er­al­ly thou­sands — of short sto­ries. (In recent years, she’s also writ­ten no small num­ber of tweets.) But though she’s spent decades with the adjec­tive pro­lif­ic attached to her name, none of us would know her name in the first place if her work had noth­ing more dis­tinc­tive about it than its sheer vol­ume. No mat­ter how much a writer writes, all is for naught if that writ­ing does­n’t make an impact. The ques­tion of how to make that impact, in sev­er­al sens­es of the word, lies at the heart of Oates’ new online course offered through Mas­ter­class.

“The most pow­er­ful writ­ing often comes from con­fronting taboos,” Oates says in the course’s trail­er above. “As a writer, if one can face the dark­est ele­ments in one­self, and the things that are secret, you have such a feel­ing of pow­er.” The truth of that comes through in any of Oates’ nov­els, but also in her short­er works of fic­tion, even the ear­ly sto­ries that make up her very first book, 1963’s col­lec­tion By the North Gate.

We might call her one of the writ­ers whose short sto­ries offer dis­til­la­tions of their sen­si­bil­i­ties, and so it makes sense that her Mas­ter­class focus­es on “the Art of the Short Sto­ry.” Its four­teen lessons cov­er such aspects of short-sto­ry writ­ing as draft­ing, revis­ing, and shar­ing; observ­ing the world with a jour­nal; and of course, “explor­ing taboo and dark­ness.”

Oates draws exam­ples from her own vast body of work, of course, includ­ing her much-reprint­ed short sto­ry “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” But she also exam­ines the writ­ing of such pre­de­ces­sors as Vir­ginia Woolf, William Car­los Williams, and Ernest Hem­ing­way, as well as sto­ries writ­ten by the two stu­dents who appear in the class videos. This is as close as most of us will ever get to being work­shopped by Joyce Car­ol Oates, and if that appeals to you, you can take her Mas­ter­class by sign­ing up for a All-Access pass to every course on the site (includ­ing cours­es taught by nov­el­ists like Mar­garet Atwood, Judy Blume, and Neil Gaiman). But be warned that, how­ev­er daunt­ing the prospect of tap­ping into one’s own dark mem­o­ries and for­bid­den thoughts, the ques­tion of how Oates does it has anoth­er, poten­tial­ly more fright­en­ing answer: eight hours a day.

You can sign up for Oates’ course here.

FYI: If you sign up for a Mas­ter­Class course by click­ing on the affil­i­ate links in this post, Open Cul­ture will receive a small fee that helps sup­port our oper­a­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Writ­ing Life of Joyce Car­ol Oates

Mar­garet Atwood Offers a New Online Class on Cre­ative Writ­ing

How to Write a Best­selling Page Turn­er: Learn from The Da Vin­ci Code Author Dan Brown’s New Mas­ter­class

Judy Blume Now Teach­ing an Online Course on Writ­ing

The Artists’ and Writ­ers’ Cook­book Col­lects Recipes From T.C. Boyle, Mari­na Abramović, Neil Gaiman, Joyce Car­ol Oates & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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