Poet, novelist and playwright Joyce Carol Oates has been named the recipient of the 2019 Jerusalem Prize, The Jewish Week has learned. The best-selling, award-winning and prolific American writer will receive the prize in May at the opening ceremony of the Jerusalem International Book Forum.
Members of the jury praised her rich body of work, extending over more than five decades. Oates, 80, who has taught creative writing at Princeton University since 1978, plans to accept the award on her first trip to Israel.
“Although her work is characterized by an unmistakable voice, she continues to surprise her many readers with the elaborate narratives she creates, as well as the thematic variations of her works,” according a statement. “Her writing, which corresponds with great American literature, as well as with Gothic literature, with myths and the movement of time, stems from an inexhaustible reservoir of rich imagination: in each book she investigates another unknown territory,” the members of the jury — Omri Herzog, Shimon Adaf and Tamar Hess (chair) — said in the statement.
The statement continues, “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.”
In previous years, the prestigious prize for international writers whose work asserts “the freedom of the individual in society” has been awarded to Milan Kundera, Arthur Miller, Mario Vargas Llosa, Ian McKewan, Susan Sontag, Sir Isaiah Berlin, Ismail Kadera, Karl Ove Knausgard and others. The prize includes a cash award of $10,000.
The author of more than 40 novels as well as many short stories, essays and works of criticism along with poetry and plays, Oates said in a statement, “In a world in which individual freedoms are under assault, the autonomy of the individual and role of art in our lives is of great concern. The very identity of the individual self is a theme that has long preoccupied me as one whose background has been ‘marginal’ — rural, not prosperous, unallied with a specific religion or culture, born in an era when the term ‘feminist’ scarcely existed.”
Oates grew up not knowing of her Jewish background. Her father’s mother was Jewish, but that was kept secret until after her death. Oates explores her grandmother’s life in her novel “The Gravedigger’s Daughter” and also in her memoir, “The Lost Landscape.”
She said in the statement, “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.”
Oates, a recipient of the National Medal of the Humanities, bestowed on her by President Obama in 2010, will take part in the International Writers Festival at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, which takes places concurrently for the first time with the Jerusalem International Book Forum (formerly called the Jerusalem International Book Fair). Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon will bestow the award.