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Summer Tales 2022

This guide helps students find fun reading material during the summer session.

About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates (born June 16, 1938) is an American writer. Oates published her first book in 1963 and has since published 58 novels, as well as a number of plays and novellas, and many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction. She has won many awards for her writing, including the National Book Award for her novel them (1969), two O. Henry Awards, the National Humanities Medal, and the Jerusalem Prize (2019). Her novels Black Water (1992), What I Lived For (1994), and Blonde (2000) and short story collections The Wheel of Love and Other Stories (1970) and Lovely, Dark, Deep: Stories (2014) were each finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. [Wikipedia]

Featured Short Story: Where is Here? by Joyce Carol Oates

 ''And dark most of the time,'' he said wonderingly. ''Dark by day, dark by night.''
Why Should You Read This Story?
Joyce Carol Oates won the National Book Award for her novel them in 1970, and was most recently (for the fifth time) a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for her short story collection Lovely, Dark, Deep -these landmarks can attest to her extraordinary career as a leading voice in American literature. Her keen insight into the craft of writing has also made her an accomplished and beloved teacher, as a Professor of Creative Writing down the turnpike at Princeton and -- lucky us! -- as a Distinguished Visiting Professor here at Rutgers.

A couple opens their home to a stranger who says he lived there as a child. Joyce Carol Oates narrates the couple’s growing unease with the stranger’s visit in a restrained, matter-of-fact style, capturing the anger and dread lying just behind the appearance of middle-class respectability. Part comedy of manners, part bourgeois tragedy, “Where Is Here?” poses the question of what makes a house into a home in ways that no greeting card or throw pillow would dare!

Talking Points - Reflection Pool

Sample discussion questions

  1. What might be “enormously exciting yet intimidating” about returning to your childhood house where a new family now lives?  What might be uncomfortable about watching a stranger who once lived in your house explore it?
  1. The characters in this story are never named — they are referred to as “the mother,” “the father,” “the stranger,” and “the son.”  Why might Oates choose to refer to them this way?  What would feel different about the story if the characters were called by first names, or last names, or even “Mother” and “Father” as opposed to “the mother” and “the father”?
  1. What does the stranger’s behavior suggest about his family life?  What do the mother’s and the father’s behavior suggest about theirs?
  1. The basement, Oates writes, “was not a part of their house the father and mother would have been comfortable showing to a stranger.”  The basement is also the last thing the stranger asks to see as the father escorts him out.  What significance might the basement have?  Do all families have a “basement” that they would rather not show?
  1. What do you make of the stranger’s riddles, and the father’s reaction to them?  Follow the stranger’s instructions to the son for the “mathematical riddle” of infinite triangles within a square — how might this image relate to the story as a whole?


The Author on Pinterest

Enjoy the inspirational collage created by Gabriella Oakley on Pinterest


Joyce Carol Oates Reading

Enjoy Joyce Carol Oates reading some of her short stories recently at various occasions


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