Joyce Carol Oates was born in 1938. As a child growing up in Lockport, New York, her preparation for her future career began early. Before she could even write, she used pictures to convey stories. At the age of fifteen she submitted her first novel to a publisher, but the book was rejected for being “too dark,” since it dealt with a drug addict who is reformed by caring for a black stallion. Such “dark” Themes are common to Oates’s work, including the frequently anthologized story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Oates completed her college education at Syracuse University in 1960 and earned a master’s degree in English at the University of Wisconsin a year later. Newly married, she and her husband, Ray Smith, moved to Texas so he could continue his own schooling. Although by this time Oates had published many stories, she did not think of herself as a professional writer until, by chance, she came across favorable mention of one of her stories in a prestigious anthology, Best American Short Stories. This marked a turning point in her life, and her first published collection of short stories appeared in 1963, followed by her first novel, With Shuddering Fall, in 1964.
From that point on, Oates’s reputation for writing outstanding novels, stories, poetry, plays, and essays was matched by her reputation for being a prolific author-she frequently published new titles, often more than one per year. In 1962 Oates moved to Detroit where she lived for the next sixteen years while teaching at area universities. The influence of Detroit on her writing led to one of her earliest and greatest successes. Her novel them, in which she explores the conditions that led to the 1967 race riots through the experiences of one fictional family, won the National Book Award in 1970. In this phase of her career, Oates tended to write about everyday Characters, which she often placed in situations that were both psychologically and socially terrifying. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” first published in 1966, dates from this period. In the years after “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Oates’s choice of subject matter broadened to include mystery novels (several written under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith) and historical fiction, which critics commended along with the gripping realistic narratives for which she is best known.