Homage to the Reader

Junot Diaz, teacher of creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, included the following remarks in a May 2008 speech to a writers’ festival in Australia:

“Writers might be word magicians but we readers are the new alchemists. Without a reader a book is simply a stack of papers dense with type and edged in glue. But when a reader grabs hold of a book, when a reader introduces her mind and heart and body to a book, that book is transformed, becomes something extraordinary.

Readers supply the galvanic human spark that bring these Frankenstein creations we call books to life. Readers transmute cold paper and stale ink into vibrant human gold. Readers are the nervous system of literature and readers alone can reach through time and space and connect one imperfect human soul with another they have never met. They can bridge the spaces between us, all through the simple act of reading.

We readers, I suspect, will be remembered more than any individual writer for safeguarding that delicate web of human interconnectivity that so many forces wish to buy, capture, enslave and mine.

Readers will be remembered long after we are all gone for holding the line against the dehumanising forces of our civilisation. Even if tomorrow all the books of the world disappeared in a flash of woodpulp and binding it would be you, you readers, who would keep the dream of that human alchemy alive.

For it is in the simple act of reading where the living and the dead, the real and the imagined, meet. It is in the simple act of reading where we exercise those two most sacred of human vocations: compassion and creativity. For as we know, without either of these primes there is no possibility for a humanity present or past worth talking about.”

Australia’s Sydney Herald published a transcript of Diaz’s brief but moving speech.

Found via Sites and Soundbytes, which posted from Diaz’s speech not his comments on readers, but his definition of literature.


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