Princeton UniversityThe New York Times reports that in 2015 Joyce Carol Oates will, reluctantly, retire from Princeton University, where she has taught creative writing for more than 35 years.

I can understand that any institution leans toward phasing out more senior faculty, so that younger faculty can be hired, usually at lower salaries. This is all very transparent and sensible and it would be very wrong of me to have a principled complaint about it, though naturally I feel sad, and will miss Princeton terribly.

One does have a sense of being ushered, not exactly forcibly, but firmly, in the direction of an exit door that, once you step through, will lock behind you as in a comical episode in “The Simpsons.”

More details in the full New York Times article.


  1. I am sorry that Joyce Carol Oates will stop teaching at Princeton University next year. I’ve known her for all the years she’s lived in Princeton, and I feel privileged to have take a creative writing course that she taught at the university.

    Yes, most institutions have to make room for new people by eliminating old people. (“New” and “old” don’t necessarily signify “young” and “old”; they just usually do.) In the case of Prof. Oates, Princeton’s timing is bad or, in institution-speak, “unfortunate.” Why? To extend the sports metaphor Joyce Carol Oates uses in her message to Randy Souther, she is absolutely at the top of her game. I think of her remarkable new novel, The Accursed, set (ironically enough–or NOT ironically enough) in the Woodrow-Wilson-of-Nassau-Hall era. And I think of a reading and talk she gave last month at Labyrinth Books (which is also the Princeton University bookstore). The words she spoke were imaginative, illuminating, and very—albeit subtly—funny: Vintage Oates.

    So I don’t think Princeton should even accept her resignation until she is, say, 105 years old. And even 105 is being ageist. (Let physiology, not bureaucracy, run the stopwatch.) Yet Princeton is the same institution that expelled Eugene O’Neill and failed to graduate F. Scott Fitzgerald—two undergraduates destined to be great writers and poor conformists. In mentioning O’Neill and Fitzgerald, I am being unfair, of course. Yet somehow that seems appropriate.


  2. This is Bull. Even at Princeton. In MIchigan Public Schools, In Chicago Public schools. Get rid of the tenured/expensive senior staff to make way for the young and dumb…oh sorry, less experienced. I want my daughter taught by experienced humans thank you. You pay for what you get. I hope NYU isn’t pulling this garbage.


    • And yes my daughter is a young writer and as a mother I want her coached/taught by the best. Just listened to the Tavis Smiley show, Ms. Oates come to NYU. What a gift for her to have you as her writing coach. It would be like in basketball being coached by Pat Summitt or Rick Pitino. Something money can’t buy, oh… yes money can buy that. Wow, what a loss for Princeton students, what a gain for NYU… I hope. Pay the coach, in sports she would be worth millions.


  3. Shocking biased language used by JCO on Tavis Smiley tv show of 5/9/201: “white trash” “terrorists” referring to Muslims –bigoted language from a writer–Ha!


    • Let’s be clear on what was said (here’s the interview; comments between 17 and 20 minutes into the interview):

      Smiley asks JCO why the “conscientious” characters in her novel The Accursed can’t connect to their conscience. JCO offers the example in the book of a Ku Klux Klan lynching about which the characters in the book refuse to speak out against. The characters are white, Christian, privileged; and though these characters feel the KKK are “white trash” using despicable methods, they are secretly in agreement with some of the goals of the KKK. So they do not speak out about the (Christian) terrorists in their midst.

      JCO goes on to say that we (Americans) speak out against terrorism because we’re victims of terrorism, but why is there silence from mainstream Muslims (presumably in other countries) about extremist terrorists coming from within their midst.

      You can agree or disagree with that last statement, but you are wrong when you said that JCO used the terms “white trash” and “terrorists” to refer to “Muslims.” The terms referred to, in the first case, her characters’ views of the KKK, and in the second case, violent Muslim extremists.



    • I appreciate the reply, I listened to it again and then went back to other episodes thinking I had missed something. I just don’t hear the language in the same format. One must study her work and know her as an instructor. She is the opposite of what is implied in that comment. Her point I believe is exactly as stated by Mr. Souther.


      • I refer, of course, to the fool who wrote about JCO’s “shockingb iiase language”–hitting a bit too close to home, eh?


  4. I think the idea is to create a slot for another of America’s younger, brilliant writers to have his or her turn to teach and create at America’s greatest undergraduate institution. It is in no way, shape, or form a slam at JCO’s brilliance or abilities.


  5. Of course JCO would be saddened to be leaving her tenured (job security,) high-paying position at Princeton that she’s had since 1978! I am even more saddened, however, by her recent and quite blatant political partisanship on her twitter account. There’s always a constant subtext of snarkiness and a trashing of successful “white” people (in her words) and conservatives; calling Fox News “Faux News” and proclaiming there’s this crusade of “right-wing propaganda.”

    She’ll then contrast those tweets with how wonderful it is to take a hike/walk/run around New York’s Central Park on a sunny day, going to see plays in New York City, speaking at this event and that event, etcetera. She sounds utterly elitist. Does she not realize a majority of conservative, working-class people cannot afford to do those things?

    And yet, Oates has been teaching at an Ivy League for a good portion of her life. An Ivy League whose tuition is 40,000+ a year. An Ivy League parents are bankrupting themselves over. An Ivy League for the rich and elite. Perhaps Oates should focus less on her pious liberal ideologies and see her own hypocrisy and bourgeoise status.

    Joyce- please leave your Ivory Tower of a job, go back to the farm, and actually do work.


  6. I do like her. I think she’s a wonderful and talented writer. It’s her politics and hypocritical public personae I cannot stand. And please explain to me exactly how calling out one’s political partisanship is white trash?
    Have you read her tweets? Do you know her stance on certain issues?
    I find it largely hypocritical that she consistently trashes conservative values and yet there’s a myriad of photos of her at this event and that event, schmoozing and accepting this award and that award at this Gala and so on.
    She simply cannot go on pretending she’s just like every other working class person because she isn’t. Princeton and all of its affiliates are part of the one percent. If Oates wants to help the poor, I’d be all for raising and taxing the hell out of her Princeton salary. Which leads me to my next question- do you even know how much a tenured Ivy League professor makes?
    Max, you really need to go to a bookstore and get informed.


    • I was her teaching assistant and remain a loyal friend to her. Your comments have absolutely nothing to do with her work as a writer. You’re like the Victorian critic who writes a scathing “moral” review based on his own subjective religious views.


      • Max Vince isn’t criticizing her writing. And your simile is, well–really not a very good or accurate one. He’s observing obvious hypocrisies and conflicts that exist in her politics vs. her personal actions and purported value system. Conflicts she is probably fully or at least mostly aware of–I’m sure and I hope. And that conflicted politic as expressed publicly just happens to be a suppressive factor in the case of working class people with conservative values. Thus placing her on an elitist pedestal. Good to stand by and defend your friend though, Most admirable.


      • You people focus on her “hypocrisies”–one could say the same thing for any liberal with a certain income, any left-wing, progressive academic, any “celebrity” with left-leaning politics in Hollywood, or, essentially, almost any liberal in any upper middle class neighborhood. Instead, you make JCO your scapegoat. Joan Baez once said that people expected her to live in a cave, and that when they found out how comfortable her life-style is, they accused her of hypocrisy. Are we living in Stalinist Russia? What are wealthy people supposed to do with their incomes? “Distribute” them? Since when is Das Kapital part of the fabric of this nation? And why should it be? if you want to behave like proles, go work in the salt mines. And as for the accuracy of my simile, I would urge you to consider only JCO’s texts and keep your hands and intrusive opinions out of her life. She has never claimed to be a Marxist and I think it’s a grave error to read her personal life into her work. If “Vince” doesn’t think that anyone in the academic community works for a living, I suggest that he try it for a day or two.


      • So now you are confusing 21st century American conservative working class values with Marxism, like family values… Intersting. Wish I had more time to answer you. Frankly I don’t know enough about Joyce to render an opinion about her life. Just pointing out what Vince actually said. And what you don’t seem to want to hear. Also no one is suggesting Ms. Oates should “live in a cave” or not enjoy the fruits of her labor–just stop the hypocracy in bashing other people’s values and unfair labeling. That’s what Vince said. If she does not actually do that then that’s what you should use to defend. But you seem to have admitted the hypocracy.


      • What exactly is hypocritical about JCO? And how has she labeled people unfairly? What does one’s income/social status have to do with anything? You still haven’t responded to my earlier queries, nor have you given any substantial, legitimate reason why someone of her stature is a hypocrite for espousing working class/proletariat values? As I said earlier, if you want to start with Oates you might as well go on to accuse half of Hollywood and the majority of tenured Canadian and American liberal arts faculty of the same thing. It’s not anyone’s fault that Vince isn’t working in the academy and enjoying the fruits of his labors. Further, Oates knows her song well before she starts singing–she’s from an impoverished background in upstate New York. I’m pressing my point because it seemed to me that there was a great deal of resentment in Vince’s original post: in the academic community–in literary circles in particular–it is considered extremely bad form to speak of an author’s personal life in relation to her texts; that is the essence of structuralism and that is how literature is taught at the university level.


      • Max,
        I think it’s hilarious you think JCO is espousing values of the working class. You really must not read her tweets, or you must be ignorant of the salaries of tenured Ivy League professors (about two-hundred thou for full time, and the tuition being around forty-one thou), or you must not know the political alignments of Al Jazeera in which JCO will often retweet (I’ll give you a hint, they’re not working class) or her stances on global warming, or you must have been absent the entire time you were her teaching assistant at Princeton (I, however, cannot afford Princeton.)
        I am suspicious of anyone that has to descend to ad hominem though as I do work for a living, but obviously not making the salary Joyce does or did. Her “song,” as you point out, is the same as every other punitive faux-Leftist working in higher education for the past few decades. Claiming to speak for the working class, but feeling oh-so superior to their values regarding religion, family values, et cetera. I only reference JCO because I am on a JCO webpage, but if you want me to talk about Noam Chomsky I can lump him in that hypocritical category as well.
        And my point was that since Joyce was from an impoverished background, she should have some respect for conservatism or the small, working class conservative guy trying to do right by his family and his religion, et cetera. I think fame, money, and recognition has gotten to her head.


      • Well, what do you suggest? Would you like to see the entire American university system dismantled? Get rid of tenure? I didn’t know we were debating liberalism vs conservatism. Did you not attend college? If JCO bothers you, I can’t imagine how such folks as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan might offend….


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