Joyce Carol Oates and that repulsive foot photo: ‘The moral is, proper footwear!’

Novelist’s shots of her horribly blistered instep have gone viral after a weekend-walk run-in

Joyce Carol Oates has written 58 novels, won countless literary prizes and spent more than three decades as a professor at Princeton, but it’s good for us underachievers to know the 82-year-old still has a few life lessons left to learn.

The writer of books such as The Gravedigger’s Daughter and What I Lived For put her foot in it spectacularly when she took a walk in her local New Jersey woods in sandals at the weekend.

When she posted a photograph on Twitter of her bruised and grotesquely blistered instep people rushed in with sympathy and helpful advice, but the image of her left foot also sparked waves of revulsion. She is not known as a master of Gothic horror for nothing.

She tweet-warned: "so important to wear proper hiking shoes. never/ever walk in the woods in sandals." With it was a picture – not for the squeamish – of the beleaguered foot, covered in horrific yellow and purple blisters: "the instep of my left foot this morning-- poison ivy? poison oak? must've stepped in something..."


That something was probably giant hogweed, also known as giant cow parsley, according to experts on social media who said they have had similar sandal-wearing run-ins with the plant and its toxic sap.

Oates later tweeted: "thank you for all your suggestions & sympathy. I have subsequently seen a doctor, am taking antibiotics & have steroid cream. doctor doesn't know what it is, however -- venomous weed or insect. (also had a tetanus shot.) pain & itching have subsided. moral is: proper footwear!"

After her foot nearly broke the internet, with headlines including "Joyce Carol Oates' foot photo is freaking everyone out," she took again to Twitter to say: "(what is most embarrassing about this incident is that my late husband Charlie Gross was an avid hiker & always stressed proper footwear: always proper hiking boots w/ two pairs of socks, & laces tight; for ordinary woods, hiking shoes, always w/ socks. he would be scandalized.)

John Guy of Great Outdoors, the Irish outdoor store, says Oates is right to have stressed the importance of finding the right footwear for every indoor and outdoor activity.

He says there’s been an increase in demand for hiking shoes and boots in recent weeks. “With the increase in staycations due to lockdown, people who would not normally be exploring the highways and byways of Ireland are becoming more aware of the need to have the right gear...

“We would always find out what activity a person is doing and then advise them accordingly regarding what they put on their feet...

“There is a time and a place for a sandal, but when it comes to activities such as walking or hiking, where the foot needs better protection and support, we’d recommend an enclosed shoe or boot to avoid ending up in Joyce’s situation.”