Chicago Humanities Festival offers audiences a treat – a special one-hour, live streaming event with acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates. Princeton-based Oates has penned 58 novels and many plays and novellas, as well as collections of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction. As if getting Oates to talk about writing, life, and how an author taps into the creative were not enough, the Festival adds another special treat. Pulitzer Prize finalist Rebecca Makkai serves as interviewer for this exceptional event. Best known for “The Great Believers,” Chicago-based Makkai is familiar with real and surreal territories and how boundaries between past and present may clash and blend. When the two authors get together, all holds are off as they dissect destiny, alternative realities, and the many selves that each of us harbors just beneath the surface. The Chicago Humanities Festival partners with the Seminary Co-op Bookstores, a not-for-profit book store. Oates’ newest book, “The (Other) You,” may be ordered online.
Focused on her latest short story collection, “The (Other) You,” Oates chats about what led her to write this collection, stories she deems part domestic realism and part speculative fiction. With skillful prodding by Makkai, no stranger to realism in all its forms, Oates describes her favorite story in the book, “Blue Guide.” When an older couple use an old, tattered, and outdated travel guide to Italy for their Turin excursion, they are caught in a loop which almost seems like an exercise in time travel. Perhaps things have changed, and it might be interesting to experience the old and the new at the same time. But they soon find that it is impossible to recapture the past – and even more impossible to recapture one’s youth. The march of time goes on – and soon the couple may part. Shortly afterwards, Oates will lose her husband. Thus the tale becomes especially prophetic as Oates reveals that it became a posthumous memorial to her husband, who died before she published the book.
Interviewer and interviewee cover a number of different and intriguing topics. They draw parallels between Oates’ pre-COVID book and the current worldwide pandemic. The world, they agree, might be on track for a whole new consciousness. Besides that, realism seems to be moving towards surrealism as both acknowledge that sometimes an author may lose control of his own story – and it may end up in an unplanned universe. Oates is also fascinated by existential alternatives – different choices which may forever change the course of one’s life. Oates is left to ponder who her characters might have become if they had chosen different paths. Through the imaginations and psyches of her thoughtful protagonists, Oates tries to find the complex connections which dictate who they – and we – will turn out to be.
Joyce Carol Oates’ interview will be livestreamed at 7 p.m. (CST) on 3/25/21. Registered guests will have a period of seven days to see the program on demand. Tickets are $35, which includes access to the virtual event and a signed copy of “The (Other) You” delivered directly to your door (only in U.S.). All tickets must be purchased online via Seminary Co-op directly. This program is free to watch for CHF members at the Friends level ($125) and up without the need to register. Books are also available for purchase. For more information, go online.
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