Magazine article Book

Joyce Carol Oates: Back to School: In Her First Novel for Young Adults, an Esteemed Author Addresses the Fallout from Columbine. (for Young Readers).(Big Mouth &Amp; Ugly Girl)(Brief Article)(Interview)

Magazine article Book

Joyce Carol Oates: Back to School: In Her First Novel for Young Adults, an Esteemed Author Addresses the Fallout from Columbine. (for Young Readers).(Big Mouth &Amp; Ugly Girl)(Brief Article)(Interview)

Article excerpt

FANS OF THE PROLIFIC JOYCE CAROL OATES ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE author's penchant for young characters--Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, You Must Remember This and We Were the Mulvaneys all focus on the trials and yearnings of teenage girls. But Oates has only now written a book specifically for young adults. Big Mouth & Ugly Girl, a portrait of an awkward friendship between a loner school athlete and a boy she defends for joking about killing people in his school, is based on several post-Columbine newspaper accounts students reporting on each other out of fear and paranoia. Oates, a creative-writing professor at Princeton University, explains why she wrote this book and describes her love for young characters.

Not many young adult novels address school violence. Why?

I'm surprised. Maybe publishers are a little wary about getting into it. There isn't any school violence in my novel--it's basically just the threat, the specter of it. The subject will be addressed; it just takes some time. It's like writing about September 11. Unless you're going to write about it in a really profound and significant way, you don't want to write something light. I know in my adult fiction, except for one very short piece I did for the London Observer, I am really non-incorporated in my writing. It's too important to just be in the background, and yet, unless you're going to write a whole thing about it, it can't be in the foreground either. You can't trivialize something like that.

A lot of young adult authors try to teach teens some kind of lesson. Did you feel compelled to do this in Big Mouth & Ugly Girl?

Not really. There's always a moral in my writing, although it's not necessarily explicit. In this little novel, these young people are made to realize certain flaws in their personalities and characters, which we all can learn. What's so wonderful about adolescents is that they change so rapidly. When you're forty or fifty or sixty years old, you just don't know how to change that well.

How is writing for young adults different from writing for adults?

It allows me to move swiftly without the layers of description and expository background that are more customary for adult fiction. …

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