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Prolificity

Anyone who writes about the American novelist Joyce Carol Oates mentions her productivity. Since 1963, when she at age 25 came out with her first collection of short stories, Oates has published over 120 books. Stephen King, also known for his productivity, has a mere 75 to his name.

“Prolific” may now be as tied to Joyce Carol Oates as “abominable” is to the Himalayan snowman. But more interesting than the productivity is of course the imagination that enables it: how Oates renders a fictional Jeffrey Dahmer or Marilyn Monroe with such perfect empathetic pitch that everything about them seems lifelike. Still, we thought it would be interesting to look at this “prolific” and show an overview of Joyce Carol Oates’s extraordinary creative output.

We gathered the covers of all her novels, novellas, short-story collections, young adult fiction, children’s books, memoirs, essay collections, plays, and novels under two different pseudonyms. In our process of figuring out how best to look at them, Chris built several viewers that showed cover art and genres on a timeline that spans 1963 to 2012.

We found that a static image, showing all the data at once, told the most interesting story (and also worked best as a “poster of aspiration and stress” for wannabe novelists…). What we most wanted to see was simply: “What does it look like to have written 120 books?”

Founded in 2010 by Ben Fry, Fathom Information Design works with clients to understand complex data through interactive tools and software for mobile devices, the web, and large format installations. Out of its studio in Boston, Fathom partners with Fortune 500s and non-profit organizations across sectors, including health care, education, financial services, media, technology, and consumer products.

How can we help? hello@fathom.info.