National Book Award Speeches (Excerpts)

(Oddly, I collected these quotes over 2 years ago and forgot to post. Here it is).

Excerpts from National Book Award Acceptance Speeches here and here. (Sidenote: The later speeches begin with this warning: Copyright � 2003 Stephen King and the National Book Foundation. All rights reserved. This speech may not be reproduced in any form without written permission. Now wait a minute. These are award speeches. No money changed hands. I’ll stipulate that if a rival company reprinted these speeches commercially, that would be wrong. But these speeches are already on the web, available for free. What does it matter if 100,000 other websites contains copies of the exact speech? That’s the kind of overreaching we’ve come to expect from IP attorneys).

Ray Bradbury on writing screenplays:

Along the way people said to me, “Ray, when are you going to do a screenplay?” Because I love motion pictures. I’ve seen just about every one ever made. A lot of the bad ones and a lot of the wonderful ones over and over again. I said, “Yes, there’s one man I’d love to work for, that’s John Huston,” and I knew that I wanted to work for him. Well, I gave John all of my books of short stories one day in 1951, and he wrote back from Africa where he was making “The African Queen” and he said, “Yes, I agree with you, someday we’ll work together. I don’t know on what.”The day finally came. I came home from a bookstore one day and my wife said, “John Huston just called. He wants you to come to his hotel.” I went to John Huston’s hotel. I walked into his room. He put a drink in my hand. He sat me down and he leaned over and he said, “Ray, what are you doing during the next year?” I said, “Not much, Mr. Huston. Not much.” And he said, “Well, Ray, how would you like to come live in Ireland and write this screenplay of ‘Moby Dick’?” And I said, “Gee, Mr. Huston, I’ve never been able to read the damn thing.”
He’d never heard that before and he thought for a moment and then he said, “Well, I’ll tell you what Ray. Why don’t you go tonight, read as much as you can, and come back tomorrow and then tell me if you’ll help me kill a white whale.”

Toni Morrison on the importance of the book industry:

The reader disabled by an absence of solitude; the writer imperiled by the absence of a hospitable community. Both stories fuse and underscore for me the seriousness of the industry whose sole purpose is the publication of writers for readers. It is a business, of course, in which there is feasting, and even some coin; there is drama and high, high spirits. There is celebration and anguish, there are flukes and errors in judgment; there is brilliance and unbridled ego. But that is the costume. Underneath the cut of bright and dazzling cloth, pulsing beneath the jewelry, the life of the book world is quite serious. Its real life is about creating and producing and distributing knowledge; about making it possible for the entitled as well as the dispossessed to experience one’s own mind dancing with another’s; about making sure that the environment in which this work is done is welcoming, supportive. It is making sure that no encroachment of private wealth, government control, or cultural expediency can interfere with what gets written or published. That no conglomerate or political wing uses its force to still inquiry or to reaffirm rule.

John Updike on the glitz on the book industry

The book industry scarcely needs glamour when it has at its command something better, beauty — the beauty of the book. Though visual imagery is in a sense more absolute — more vivid, less arguable — than the printed word, electronic projectors are clumsy and prone to obsolescence compared to the physical object that bound paper forms. Alfred Knopf, when he was alive, dressed up for publishing much the way John Keats is alleged to have dressed up when he sat down to write a poem. In his purple shirts, expressionist neckties, and Burnside whiskers, he seemed a cross between a Viennese emperor and a Barbary pirate; but the menace in him never frightened me because I knew I was in the company of a man who loved books and cared about their beauty. The books he published showed it. We assembled here should rejoice in our venerable product; a book is beautiful in its relation to the human hand, to the human eye, to the human brain, and to the human spirit.

Studs Terkel on collecting oral histories:

I tape, therefore I am. (laughter) And I hope that one of these two so possessed me maybe further defined by a paraphrase, “I tape, therefore they are.” Now, who are they? Hardly worth a footnote in our histories. Who are they whom the bards have so seldom sung? Who built the seven gates of Thebes? When the Chinese Wall was built, where did the masons go for lunch? When Caesar conquered Gall, was there not even a cook in the army? And here’s the big one, when the Armada sank, you read that King Philip wept. Were there no other tears?

Arthur Miller on playwrighting and the importance of style vs. ideas:

I recall a conversation I had with Thomas Mann after he had seen “Death of a Salesman” in New York. The play seemed to have somehow distressed him but not for the obvious reason. He was, indeed, affected by it, as he said, but it also apparently aroused some sort of resentment in him. “They are like aborigines,” he said of the characters. “There is no idea coming from them.”To me, of course, if I may say so, that was precisely the triumph of the play, whose metaphor lay in its very design, in the arc of its story, in the voyage of its characters. Put another way, I had learned my American theater lesson: If you have a message, send it either by Western Union or by virtue of the play’s inexorability.

Stephen King’s speech, mentions this thought experiment:

Of course, I only have my own senses, experiences and reading to draw on but that usually – not always but usually – usually it’s enough. It gets the job done. For instance, if an elevator full of people, one of the ones in this very building – I want you to think about this later, I want you to think about it – if it starts to vibrate and you hear those clanks – this probably won’t happen but we all know it has happened, it could happen. It could happen to me or it could happen to you. Someone always wins the lottery. Just put it away for now until you go up to your rooms later. Anyway, if an elevator full of people starts free-falling from the 35th floor of the skyscraper all the way to the bottom, one of those view elevators, perhaps, where you can watch it happening, in my opinion, no one is going to say, “Goodbye, Neil, I will see you in heaven.” In my book or my short story, they’re far more apt to bellow, “Oh shit” at the top of their lungs because what I’ve read and heard tends to confirm the “Oh shit” choice. If that makes me a cynic, so be it.

Bloggers jumped on Stephen King’s defense of popular writers in this speech (pile on everybody!), but the most remarkable thing to me was the tribute to his wife. He talked about her a lot in the book ON Writing, but I just realized that she was his inspiration for the insane fan in Misery.

Judy Blume on how writing a sexually explicit novel affected her and her family:

And just a few miles away in the Weequahic section of Newark was Philip Roth. I am more connected to Philip Roth than he will ever know and I’m not just another fan, although I surely am a fan. His mother and mine went to high school together in Elizabeth. When Wifey, my first novel for adults, was published, my mother ran into Mrs. Roth on the street. Mrs. Roth had some advice for my mother: “Look, Essie,” she said, “when they ask you how she knows all those things, you say, ‘I don’t know, but not from me’.”When you write a sexy novel, old boyfriends crawl out of the woodwork and contact you. They’re all sure they missed out on something hot when they were teenagers. Believe me, they didn’t. My favorite Wifey letter, though, comes from a stranger:
You’re rude and crude, depraved and lewd
You’re caught in a moral crunch.
You’re vexed, perplexed and oversexed
So when can we have lunch?

Postmodernist writer (and my ex teacher of mine) John Barth writes a terse acceptance:

In a letter to the Duke of Weimar, Goethe said, “I am convinced that it is almost as immodest to refuse a high distinction as stubbornly to strive to attain it.” I agree, despite the capriciousness and ephemerality of such distinctions. We all share the Tragic View of Literary Prizes; yet it would be boring if there were none, and it is more agreeable to shrug them off, having won them. A worthwhile literary prize, in my estimation, is one that on occasion will be awarded to a writer despite the fact that he or she deserves it.






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