Friday, May 11, 2007

The Power of Nonfiction

Garrison Keillor gave the keynote speech at the J. Anthony Lukas awards and it was so amazing the New York Observor decided to print it in its entirty. Here are a few excerpts, in which he lauds writers:

"Nonfiction has this power to turn our heads around and to really shake us. Books that come at our mythology and give us a clearer view of the world and so do such a great service for us. I do not know any movie that I’ve ever been to that really changed my mind about anything. I can’t think of a single song that did. And I don’t know–I could think about works of fiction. But for sure works of history and biography have."

I like this part, too:

"But I believe in writers. I believe that they are out there, and they are at work. Great entrepreneurs: I believe in ambitious writers who are not satisfied with being promising, who are not satisfied with making a small display of cleverness and intelligence, but who take on enormous subjects–the bigger the better. And they are at work–they are at work all over this city. And not only at universities, but in the reading room of the New York public library. They are at work in rooms in apartments, in basements in Brooklyn. They are everywhere: they are all across this country. They are in garages and they are in bedrooms in their parents’ homes and they are at work, grappling with enormous subjects. Some of them with contracts, some of them without. Some of them subsisting, but working toward an enormous, enormous good. They are at work at computers, with books stacked on the floor around them, and on tables, and notes: legal pads, scribbles here, index cards, post-it notes all over. A whole great beautiful chaos of material. And they are just trying to get the job done.

They’re working at this as you would work at any other difficult task. It’s like a major illness–having a book in the works. There are good days and bad days but you just keep going. You avoid the temptation of the telephone. You put off the e-mail until evening. The Internet–an enormous temptation, right there inside your computer. And all of this off–you stave this off. A straight act of character and dedication.

You try to keep a life going. You try to raise a child, or children. You try to be a spouse, you try to have friendships, and have social occasions.

People ask you, “How is the book coming?”

You say, “It’s comin’ great.” What else you going to say? You’re sick of it. You don’t want to talk about it.

Your editor, asks, “How’s the book coming?” And you say, Well, ahh, er...It’s coming slower than I thought it would....problems. But I’m hopeful–I’m still hopeful. I can’t make any promises, but I’m hopeful. And then it comes out, it actually comes out. And people ask you, “How does it feel? It must feel great.”

It doesn’t, actually. To your great surprise. You were thinking it might feel great. But it doesn’t. You feel of course a sense of relief. An enormous amount of time is now yours, which had been devoted to other things. And that’s confusing. And you feel a sense of disbelief in a way. But also a sort of grief–that this enormous thing has now moved on. What are you going to do with your life now?"

The Police Report on David Halberstam's death has been turned over to the San Mateo County District Attorney's office. Apparently, it doesn't conclude which party was at fault.

Meanwhile, his widow has been comforted by the thousands of condolences she has received. (via Romenseko)


Susan said...

Thank you SO MUCH for this (the GK speech)- just what I needed today.

Anonymous said...

Here I am paying the big money to you writers, and what for? All you do is change the words. ~ Sam Goldwyn.