Famed author Joyce Carol Oates wins 2019 Jerusalem Prize

As Oates graciously acknowledges her honor to be a recipient, she explained her mysterious Jewish heritage.

By
January 20, 2019 10:38
Writer Joyce Carol Oates poses with her book "Blonde" during a photocall after she won the Literary

Writer Joyce Carol Oates poses with her book "Blonde" during a photocall after she won the Literary Award at the 36th American film festival in Deauville September 9, 2010. . (photo credit: REUTERS/VINCENT KESSLER)

 
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American author Joyce Carol Oates is set to receive the 2019 Jerusalem Prize in May during the opening ceremony of the Jerusalem International Book Forum and the International Writers Festival in Mishkenot Sha’ananim. 

"I am deeply honored to be a recipient of this distinguished international literary award made to writers whose work deals with the freedom of the individual in society," Oates said in a statement. "In a world in which individual freedoms are under assault, the autonomy of the individual and the role of art in our lives is of great concern."

"More than anything else, Oates describes and throws light on the tension between the hidden anxieties and desires that permeate the human psyche, and the forces of family, society and culture that give them form - imprisoning them and sometimes releasing them," said the Jerusalem Prize jury members, Dr. Omri Herzog, Prof. Shimon Adaf and Dr. Tamar Hess.

"With a deep and profound psychological understanding, she confronts her heroes - as well as her readers - with the ways in which people deal with internal or external demons, and their struggle defines the boundaries of the human condition.

Oates, who was raised Catholic, said she discovered after her grandmother's death that she had Jewish heritage that had been concealed.

"One of the great mysteries in my family life had to do with my father’s mother who was, we discovered after her death, Jewish," Oates said. "During her lifetime this was kept secret - for reasons not entirely clear to me, but which I explore in my novel The Gravedigger’s Daughter. Obviously, there is an entire dimension of my life which was inaccessible to me and which I might have considered lost, and so a visit to Israel is likely to be profound and life-changing.”

The 80-year-old author and native New Yorker is the author of fiction, poetry, non-fiction, essays, and plays. She is also a recipient of the National Medal of the Humanities, given to her by former president Barack Obama in 2010.

Oates's bestselling titles include We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.



Oates has long been outspoken about her views and since joining Twitter in 2012 has used the platform to loudly criticize US President Donald Trump. The novelist has commented multiple times on the BDS movement - the drive to boycott, divest and sanction the State of Israel.

"Have heard vehement arguments for & against boycotting Israel, for instance - volatile issue to say the least," she wrote in 2013. "Whom do boycotts hurt most?"

Later that year she tweeted: "Boycotting Israel first step in boycotting all nations violating 'human rights?' Quite a challenge."
In 2014 she lamented how "it is amazing how one-sided US sympathy is, almost entirely for Israel."

Earlier that year, during the Israeli conflict with Gaza, Oates wrote: "Thinking of Art Spiegelman's brilliant Maus transposed into Gaza images."

The author did not react publicly on social media to the announcement of the Jerusalem Prize this weekend.

The Jerusalem Prize is a biennial prize awarded to writers who deal with the themes of freedom in society.

Awardees are given $10,000 and have included the likes of Ian McEwan, Simone de Beauvoir and Karl Ove Knausgård.

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