Tweeting While Literary: Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, and the Dangers of Being an Author on Twitter


We’ve been down this road before with Joyce Carol Oates.

Last July, the author with the uncanny ability to write more novels, short stories, essays, and poems than any one human could actually want to read, pissed off a good portion of her Twitter followers by discounting men who are victims of sexual assault in prison while also saying something that read a lot like she was trying to blame Islam for rapes that had been committed in Egypt.

That was the summer, it was warm and I was feeling optimistic, so I tried to believe that the Black Water author knew better. I figured she was just being impulsive, not thinking about things before she hit the “tweet” button to send out her thoughts to tens of thousands of fans.

I still think that’s the case, but now I am also ready to admit it’s time for Joyce Carol Oates to reconsider being on Twitter at all.

I know Oates spends a lot of time writing fiction, but the thing that she’s missing in that tweet is that Dylan Farrow’s letter is real life; Nabokov’s classic novel is just that, a novel. There is no comparing the story an author tells to (alleged) real-life child sexual abuse. In the immortal words of Liz Lemon: shut it down, Joyce Carol Oates.

But Oates is more like the Energizer Bunny, less like the 30 Rock heroine in that she keeps going and going, her attempts at hammering her point across growing ever more incomprehensible:

People aren’t still outraged that George Zimmerman walked free after killing Trayvon Martin? I realize that Oates follows fewer than 50 people, but I’m assuming she gets her news somewhere. There must be some outlet out there to enlighten her that, yes, people are still really pissed off that the man who killed an unarmed 17-year-old boy is roaming free because he was protected under a stupid law — that he can still abuse women and sign on to box DMX in a (thankfully canceled) “celebrity” bout. Yes, Joyce Carol Oates, people (myself included) are still angry about that.

Another author who writes at nearly the same pace as Oates, Stephen King, recently joined Twitter. In his short time on the site, the popular author has amassed over 300,000 fans, and has given many of us dorks a whole lot of pleasure by tweeting his thoughts on topics from current events to whatever book he’s enjoying at that moment. But last week King found out the hard way the lesson Oates has been unable to process, and tweeted to Mary Karr about the Farrow letter:

What the media likes to dismiss as “Twitter outrage” rightfully ensued, people pointed out that what the mega-bestseller said was really stupid, so he issued an apology. The outrage happened because King chose to be part of the Twitter community, and as a celebrity in that world, he should be aware lots and lots of people are paying attention to his conversations.

Listen, I’m not here to crucify anybody. I say plenty of idiotic things on Twitter. I think Oates has every right to voice her opinion, and I’m happy King could say he was sorry for screwing up. What I’m concerned about is that these authors run the risk of tarnishing their reputations the more they share their unprocessed opinions and observations with the world. Sure, King was one of the first grown-up authors I got into as a kid, but do I really want to know if he ever has another ugly-as-hell thought? I don’t want to stop supporting these authors who have meant so much to me, but each cringe-worthy statement they issue makes it more difficult to get excited about their next book.

Like I said, we have to allow everyone to make mistakes. King did the right thing, and it seems like he may have learned a lesson. But Oates is only making things worse for herself, to the point where her Twitter ranting might make the average reader less likely to explore her work. She just keeps repeating the same gaffes, sticking to her point no matter how many people reply to her like this: