Joyce Carol Oates has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time. She is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been several times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Oates is the author of national bestsellers including We Were the Mulvaneys which was adapted into a film, Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. Her most recent novel is A Book of American Martyrs. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.
Professor! Hello. White winter days, sunshine on newly fallen snow. You have come to the happy place for it is Thursday afternoon. Another week, and you are still alive. Your secret you carry everywhere and so into the happy place. So close to the heart, no one will see. # Not a happy season. Not a happy time. Not in the history of the world and not in the personal lives of many. You wonder how many are like you. Having come to prefer dark to daylight. Sweet oblivion of sleep to raw wakefulness. Yet: in the wood-paneled seminar room on the fifth floor of North Hall. At the top of the smooth-worn wooden staircase where a leaded window overlooks a stand of juniper pines. In the wind, pine boughs shiver and flash with melting snow. The happy place. Here is an atmosphere of optimism light as helium. You laugh often, you and the undergraduates spaced about the polished table. Why do you laugh so much?—you have wondered. Generally it seems: the more serious the subjects, the more likely some sort of laughter. The more intensity, the more laughter. The more at stake, the more laughter. The happy place is the solace. The promise. Waking in the morning stunned to be still alive. The profound fact of your life now. # Already, at the first class meeting in September, you’d noticed her: Ana. Of the twelve students in the fiction writing workshop, it is Ana who holds herself apart from the others. From you. When they laugh, Ana does not laugh—not often. When they answer questions you put to them, when in their enthusiasm they talk over one another like puppies tumbling together—Ana sits silent. Though Ana may look on with a faint (melancholy) smile. Or, Ana may turn her gaze toward the wall of windows casting a ghostly reflected light onto her face and seem to be staring into space— oblivious of her surroundings. Thinking her own thoughts. Private, not yours to know. You feel an impulse to lean across the table, to touch Ana’s wrist. To smile at her, ask––Ana, is something wrong?