Tulsa Library trust chooses Oates as Helmerich winner

Wednesday, April 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The Tulsa Library Trust on Tuesday selected novelist Joyce Carol Oates as recipient of the 2002 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award.

Writer of such works as ``We Were the Mulvaneys'' and ``them,'' Oates will receive a $25,000 cash prize and an engraved crystal book when she accepts the award in December in Tulsa.

``This is completely out of the blue, but so nice,'' Oates, 63, told the Tulsa World by telephone from her home near Princeton, N.J. ``There's not too many people who are recognized for doing something they love.''

The library trust has given out the Helmerich award annually since 1985 to writers who have written distinguished bodies of work and made major contributions to the field of literature and letters.

Oates' versatility as a writer was one of the reasons she was chosen, selection committee Chairman William Bernhardt said.

``I can't think of any of her contemporaries who have shown such breadth,'' Bernhardt said. ``She's truly a literary master.''

Oates won the ``Mademoiselle'' fiction contest while attending Syracuse University in New York. Shortly thereafter, at age 25, her first collection of short stories, ``By the North Gate,'' was published.

At age 31, Oates became one of the youngest authors ever to win the National Book Award with ``them,'' about the violence and poverty suffered by three generations of a Detroit family.

She is a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and winner of awards for writing ranging from Gothic romances, horror novels and family dramas to essays, plays and short stories.

Her first No. 1 bestseller on the New York Times list didn't come until 2001, though, when ``We Were the Mulvaneys'' was selected by the Oprah Book Club. The story chronicles a family's effort to cope with their daughter's rape.

``That was such a unique experience because Oprah really exposed me to a larger, commercial audience,'' she said.

Her latest release, the novella ``Beasts,'' is her 95th book. Oates also recently completed a fictional screenplay about a girl who loses her mother in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and is penning a story set in upstate New York during the civil rights movement of the '60s.

``I've always been successful at budgeting my time in order to get things done,'' she said. ``Teaching and writing, neither of those activities is laborious work in a negative sense. They can be difficult but in an exciting way.''

Past Helmerich award winners include Margaret Atwood (1999); John Hope Franklin (1997); Norman Mailer (1992) and Toni Morrison (1988).