[Joyce Carol] Oates latest novel, “The Sacrifice,” is based on the 1988 Tawana Brawley rape case in New York. Brawley, an African-American teenager at the time, said six white men abducted and raped her. The claims turned out to not be true.
The book received some criticism, including from one New York Times reviewer who described Oates as a white writer trying to ascribe motives and mind-sets to an array of African-American characters as a “creative experiment.”
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Question: Considering the racial atmosphere now as this book is being published and the outrage over racial bias in law enforcement that has swept the country — isn’t it realistic to assume a book like this would be controversial?
Oates: I suppose so but it is very much about white racism. It’s basically a very sympathetic portrait of a community basically under siege with white police officers who are very difficult. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for writing this novel unless somebody feels that it’s her territory and that white writers should not venture into her territory.
I think the idea is that we should be writing about people different from ourselves. We should be sympathetic about people who don’t have complete advantages that we have. We should bear witness for people who can’t speak their own stories. If we were not allowed to write about people different from ourselves, we would only be writing about such a narrow subset of human life it would not be of much interest.
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Question: You’re also very disciplined about writing.
Oates: I’m not sure that I even need to be disciplined. It’s like saying that you need to be disciplined to have your dreams at night. Basically, it’s very pleasurable. Writing is a challenge, and I think it exerts a kind of neurological exercise in the brain so one is solving problems of structure and choosing words and rearranging sentences and rewriting. There’s a lot of thinking about it and meditating and calculating. So a writer does a lot more than you know sitting and writing actual words. You spend a lot of time thinking and daydreaming and planning.
Link to the rest at KPBS and thanks to Meryl for the tip.