Maynard, Joyce

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Born 1953, New Hampshire

Daughter of Fredelle and Max Maynard; married Steve Bethel (divorced); children: Audrey, Charlie, Willy

Joyce Maynard became famous for an essay describing herself and her generation, published when she was only eighteen years old. She went on to write novels, children's books, memoirs, newspaper columns, and magazine articles. Much of her written work has been controversial, winning both praise and condemnation from literary critics. She may be best known for a brief relationship she had with an older man who happened to be a famous, reclusive writer.

Maynard began writing at a very early age. Her mother wrote notes on her handwritten pages, much like an editor making comments on an author's manuscripts. By the age of eight, Maynard was writing for a neighborhood newspaper. She was published in school magazines by the age of twelve. As a teenager, she had her first professional writing published in Seventeen magazine.

Maynard attended a series of prestigious schools in her native New England. In her senior year of high school, she was one of ten young women to be admitted as part of the first coeducational class at Phillips Exeter Academy, a famous prep school in Exeter, New Hampshire. She went on to attend Dartmouth College and Yale University. While still in college, Maynard had an autobiographical essay, "An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back on Life," published in the 23 April 1972 issue of the New York Times Magazine. The magazine also featured a photograph of Maynard on the front cover. The essay, which described members of her generation as world weary, uninvolved, and unambitious, made Maynard famous almost literally overnight. The magazine received three large mailbags full of letters commenting on the essay within a week.

Maynard's career as a writer was launched by the response to the essay. She soon began writing articles for Vogue, Mademoiselle, and other magazines. CBS Radio hired her as one of two female commentators on its opinion program, Spectrum. She also spent a summer writing editorials for the New York Times. At this time, Maynard spent ten months in a relationship with J. D. Salinger, the acclaimed author of Catcher in the Rye, known for his reclusiveness. Maynard did not publicly discuss this relationship for many years. When she did, some critics suggested she was violating Salinger's privacy for the sake of her own publicity, an accusation she strongly denied. However, in 1999 she auctioned off 14 letters he had written her during their relationship.

Maynard expanded her famous essay into her first book, Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties (1973). Although critics praised her ability to describe her personal experiences, many found her too eager to expand these experiences into vague generalizations about her generation. Maynard returned to work for the New York Times, this time in the Metro department. She soon married Steve Bethel, a painter she had known at Yale, and left her job to raise their children. She also continued to write, mostly for magazines aimed at women and parents.

In 1981 Maynard published her first novel, Baby Love. The book deals with a large number of characters, primarily four young working-class women who have had babies or who are about to have babies. Critics generally praised Maynard's ability to describe the ordinary lives of these women. Most agreed, however, that the novel was less effective when she turned her attention away from these women to focus on more melodramatic characters, including a psychopathic murderer.

In 1984 Maynard began publishing a popular column that was syndicated in 40 newspapers. The column, describing Maynard's daily life as a wife and mother, was collected into a book entitled Domestic Affairs: Enduring the Pleasures of Motherhood and Family Life (1987). During this time, Maynard published two children's books, with paintings by her husband. She also published an article, "A Story of a Town," protesting the possibility of placing a nuclear waste disposal site near her home in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. Her newspaper column ended in 1991, after loyal readers were dismayed to discover she had separated from her husband.

Maynard continued to write in the 1990s while raising three children as a divorced mother. She started a monthly column for Parenting magazine in 1991. She also wrote episodes of the nostalgic television series, Brooklyn Bridge. In 1992 Maynard published her second novel, To Die For. The book was loosely based on a true story, in which a high school advisor seduced a student and convinced him and two of his friends to murder her husband. Maynard changed the character to a woman obsessed with fame who will stop at nothing to succeed in the world of television news broadcasting. Many critics found the story compelling but the character unconvincing. To Die For was adapted into a popular film in 1995 starring Nicole Kidman.

Maynard returned to a more domestic theme, involving motherhood and divorce, in Where Love Goes (1995). She returned to autobiography in At Home in the World: A Memoir (1998), in which she detailed her relationship with Salinger.

Other Works:

Camp-Out (1985). New House (1987).


Reference works:

CANR (1998). CLC (1983).