Joyce Carol Oates was 40-minutes late to her appearance at this season’s second Evening Readings series, held on Nov. 20 at the LeFrak Concert Hall.
As soon as she came on stage — still slightly disheveled from running on stage — the audience gave her a round of applause.
“I just spent four hours in the car!” Oates emphatically said. She was coming all the way from Princeton University, where she has taught since 1978.
Oates is 74-years-old and has written over 50 novels, including “them,” a National Book Award winner and “Black Water,” a Pulitzer Prize nominee.
Due to this, the evening’s events were delayed about 10-minutes but that did not interfere with the night’s program. The evening’s second guest, 35-year-old Jonathan Safron Foer, wrote “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” both of which became famous film adaptations.
In 1995, during his freshman year at Princeton, Foer had taken a class with Oates and it was there that his life changed.
“I just took the class because I wanted to, not because I wanted to be a writer,” Foer said.
Foer also emphasized that he does not think of himself as a Jewish writer saying, “I’m a Jewish writer in the same vein as Aretha Franklin is a black singer—I think of myself differently in most days and I’m a writer in different ways.”
Upon Oates’ arrival, the evening took a different turn as she continued mentoring Foer even on the stage, anxiously asking him what he had read to the audience. When he said “something new,” she nodded and gave him a teacher’s grin.
Despite the delay, the full house was still happy to hear from their favorite writers, including St. John’s University senior and longtime Foer fan, Yuliya Feyder, who had heard about the event from a friend.
“I feel personally connected to [Foer’s] characters, and as he was speaking at this event, I felt personally connected to him even as I was sitting in a room with other people who probably felt the same way,” Feyder said.
Themes of violence in both Oates and Foer’s work were also discussed. Foer previously used both the Holocaust and the events of Sept. 11 as backdrops for his novels. Oates is famous for having her characters undergo murder, torture, rape and abuse. She believes that violence is a part of our culture, a quote of hers that Foer agreed with.
“It’s involuntarily disturbing,” he said, discussing how ingrained it is in society.
Much to the surprise of everyone in the audience, Oates revealed that she had very recently joined Twitter and joked about autocorrect changing around one of her tweets.
“It’s a great place for journalism because the idea is you’re at the place where the action is taking place,” Oates said. “You’re bearing witness.”
When asked if Foer was on Twitter, he let out a smile.
“No, it’s a generational thing,” he said.