Fixing the Femme Fatale: The Millions Interviews Joyce Carol Oates

October 31, 2019 | 3 books mentioned 2 min read

In Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers, a collection edited and curated by Joyce Carol Oates, women blast into the traditionally male domain of noir. These 15 stories and six poems—by the likes of Margaret Atwood, Aimee Bender, Edwidge Danticat, and Oates—attest that women in noir are more than the ubiquitous femme fatale created by men.

The Millions: Why do you feel it’s important to promote female noir at this point?

Joyce Carol Oates: Female noir is both in contrast to traditional noir—a predominantly male genre—and wholly distinctive, original. Essentially, it is the dramatization of women appropriating actions and attitudes that have traditionally been the province of men. As Margaret Atwood wittily observes, “In the old days, all werewolves were male.” While no one in Cutting Edge is a werewolf or a vampire, there are a number of transgressive acts that declare that women have come into their own in the #MeToo era.

TM: Do you feel that female protagonists tend to be one-dimensional in traditional noir?

JCO: There are rarely female protagonists in traditional noir works. By far, these are men, and the women are wicked, untrustworthy, evil—or they are of no dramatic interest at all.

TM: What is the main difference between these stories and previous noir stories, even those written by women?

JCO: Some women in some of these stories embrace their wicked, evil natures with a startling enthusiasm. “Enough with being victims!” they seem to proclaim.

TM: Does that empower women? Or could it be seen as a throwback to biblical female wickedness? 

JCO: Fiction dramatizes specific individuals; it is really not intended to be propaganda or to proselytize. Serious fiction presents characters who are unique, individual. They are neither “good” nor “evil”—life is not that simple, and art mirrors life in its essential mystery.

TM: How did you choose the stories?

covercoverJCO: My publisher, Johnny Temple of Akashic Books, and I have gathered together three anthologies, in all: New Jersey Noir, Prison Noir, and now Cutting Edge. In all three cases, the criteria were outstanding stories written by invitation. We each contacted likely contributors, who put us in contact with others, and these with others, until finally a manuscript emerged. There are exceptional noir female writers not represented here—Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, and Laura Lippman—not because they were not invited but because, with regret, they had to decline our entreaties.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and the Miami Book Fair.

is a writer and documentary filmmaker; she lives in New York.

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