Johnson reveals little-known facts about Oates's personal and family history and debunks many of the myths that have arisen about this brilliant, enigmatic woman. Johnson takes readers from Oates's impoverished childhood in upstate New York and the birth of her autistic sister through Oates's studies at Syracuse University, where her talent was immediately recognized, to the full breadth of her astonishingly productive career. His astute examination of Oates's novels, short stories, and plays demonstrates how her art has been informed by her life.