Ask Joyce Carol Oates


Joyce Carol Oates speaking at Gleeson Library, University of San Francisco, in April of last year. Photo: Shawn Calhoun, CC some rights reserved

During the week of January 14, prolific, award-winning writer Joyce Carol Oates will be answering your questions about her novel, Mudwoman, which Betsy Kepes reviewed earlier this year.

So, here’s the deal:

  1. find a copy of Mudwoman, read it of course, then
  2. email your questions to or
  3. post your question as a comment in the reply section below

Your questions, and the author’s replies to them, will provide the basis for our online conversation about the novel.

There’s a regional connection in this book. As Betsy Kepes wrote recently:

“Joyce Carol Oates plays with geography in Mudwoman, beginning the story in fictional Beechum County, an Adirondack region that is the largest and least populated county in New York State.  Barely alive in the cold mud above the Black Snake River, a little girl is rescued by a young trapper and lives with a blue-collar foster family until a gentle Quaker couple adopt her. They live in the village of Carthage, relocated to the northwestern edge of Beechum County…An excellent student, she secretly applies to Cornell when her parents want her to stay in the North Country and become a teacher.”

Okay, now it’s up to you. This is a first for us at the NCPR Readers & Writers Book Club. Send us your questions no later than January 7 and we’ll make sure Joyce Carol Oates gets them.

  1. I finished Mudwoman last night, another great Oates book. The way she went back and forth from the past to the future and then wove them together had me wondering many times what was a dream, or a delusion, or reality, leaving me both fascinated and unsettled. At one point I wondered if I could keep reading. But I am glad I did. I too wonder about the ending and why she chose to end it as she did. I would like to ask her why she used some real and some fictional names and locations for her geography? Why did she choose not to use the real locations, names, directions, mileages, particularly since this book focuses on a sense of place. Thank you!
    You are encouraging us on-air to comment and leave questions about the book, but had a hard time finding the place to do it, it is buried on the page, and the page that leads to that link is hard to locate. Could be why you don’t have many comments?

    • Betsy Kepes says:

      Hi Diane M.– thanks for your thoughts on MUDWOMAN and your excellent question. It was confusing to have Carthage moved deeper into the Adks, into the fictional Beechum County. And I wondered if the Moriah at the beginning of the book was in the same place at the actual Adk Moriah near Mineville in the eastern Adks. I know the book is fiction and Joyce Carol Oates can do whatever she wants with reality, but as a North Country person, I needed it to be grounded a little more.

      I’m preparing questions now to send of to Oates tomorrow. I’ve collected a few more that didn’t make it onto the website. This is an experiment for us, but we didn’t want to pass up any chance at all to have a “conversation” with the prolific, brilliant Oates.

      Thanks for joining in and we’ll see how Oates answers us.

  2. Betsy Kepes says:

    Yesterday morning I met at the parking lot where I know a group of women will congregate to run and walk together. As we gathered one of my friends said, “I finished MUDWOMAN last night”.

    Yes! Now I had someone to talk to about the book. “What did you think about the ending?” I asked.

    “I didn’t get it,” she said. I think we started running faster then, as we tried to figure out just exactly what was happening at the end of the long book. We both had ideas, theories, questions.

    Good thing we can ask Joyce Carol Oates directly! I’m just thinking of how to frame the questiion.

  3. Laura McGrath says:

    Dear Ms. Oates,
    I have been a great fan of your work for years. Your characters seem so true and real to me. My questions are:
    How do you prepare to write about people from different backgrounds and different life experiences?
    You take on difficult and troubling themes, and I wonder why this appeals to you? And how does it affect you as a person to delve into characters and situations that are disturbing?

    Thank you for this opportunity to hear from you and thank you for a wealth of novels and stories that will enrich my life for years to come!

    • Betsy Kepes says:

      Hi Laura– Thanks for sending in a couple of great questions. I’m putting together a list now to send to Ms. Oates in the morning. I’ve got some questions of my own plus some that didn’t make it onto this part of the website.

      Please check in on Monday or Tuesday to see if we’ve gotten any answers.


      • Laura McGrath says:

        I just finished the book myself. I wonder why there is nothing included in the book about M.R.’s time in the hospital. Also, I would be interested in Ms. Oates’ comments on the theme of bridges. Thank you.