Ricky Gervais might have been the right host for the Golden Globes this year, but he'd never do at Newbery Caldecott or the National Book Awards or PEN or the Authors Guild. We've had celebrities -- Garrison Keillor (he counts!) and Steve Martin and others. I know the N/C banquet can seem awfully earnest, but honestly I'd take that over ungraceful mockery. People in Hollywood actually work very hard on movies. A lot of films are works of art that will last after we're all gone. Some of them are not, but I think our pals in Tinseltown deserve something better.
So before we in the book community bemoan the fact that the Today show doesn't pick up our authors, or that NBC doesn't cover Poets & Writers, let's remember that when events are not televised, they're allowed to have their own personality and style. Their own profile, warts and all. They're allowed to rejoice in themselves. Sometimes banquets are dull; sometimes speakers are unspeakable; but the banquets I've been lucky enough to attend and the speakers I've been lucky enough to hear are all trying to get at something: that art has a place; that artistic endeavor should be lauded; and that some things are worth taking seriously.
Last week, I was hunting around for photos for my daughter's yearbook page. I found some great old pics of her, and I also found this photo of Virginia Euwer Wolff at the National Book Awards in November, 2001. Below are Jinny's remarks from that evening. After hearing them, Steve Martin (never sufficiently to be praised) said "My God. She went from shock to eloquence in three seconds."
That's the kind of remark we're privileged to hear at a celebration of artistic endeavor that takes itself just seriously enough.
Here's what Jinny had to say:
Like most authors, I have wondered since September 11th what I would ever write again, if I would ever write anything, and if so, would it matter? Usually, the answer has been no, for two months, the answer has been no. You understand, don't you? Of course.
Today my son, Anthony, and I went to the World Trade Center site and we walked around. What I saw was living proof of Faulkner's six. Faulkner said in 1949 in the Nobel speech that if we are not writing about these six things we are not doing our job. They are love, honor, pity, pride, compassion and sacrifice. I think of them as Faulkner's six. I used to have them on my wall until I memorized them and now they're on this wall in here.
And I saw them today at Ground Zero, the work that is going on and the awe and the humility and the hush and the consideration. Love, honor, pity, pride, compassion and sacrifice. That's what you and I and all of us are supposed to be writing about; Faulkner said it and he was right. Thank you.