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Questions, Not Explanations

November 19, 2003 — National Book Awards Ceremony, New York Marriott Marquis, New York City


I want to say in response to Stephen King that I do not — as I think he a little bit seems to do — I don’t regard literature (which he spoke of perhaps in a slightly pejorative way), I don’t regard the novel, poetry, language as written, I don’t regard it as a competition. It is so vast. We have this marvelous language. We are so lucky that we have a huge audience for that language. If we were writing in high Norwegian, we would be writing in a great ancient language but we would have mostly reindeer for our readers. I’m not sure that that is the ideal outcome. We have this huge language so diverse around the earth that I don’t think giving us a reading list of those who are most read at this moment is much of a satisfaction because we are reading in all the ages, which have been an immense inspiration and love to me and are such an excitement.

I can take one of the ancient poems of our language and feel so excited and moved and even sometimes terrified by it that it seems very immediate to me. I don’t see this as “we should read this or we should read that.” We have mysterious inclinations. We have our own intuitions, our individuality toward what we want to read, and we developed that from childhood. We don’t know why. Nobody can explain it to us.

I think America especially is drowning in explanations and what we need is more questions, not explanations, perhaps, because the explanations are not leading us into good places, at least the official ones that I hear.



Source: C-SPAN, National Book Awards Ceremony, November 19, 2003.