December 1, 2008

1950 Nobel Prize For Literature

On Thanksgiving Day Louisville's newspaper, The Courier Journal, re-printed this speech by William Faulkner. I've read this before. You can even find the actual recording of the speech on the web, his Mississippi drawl included. Although he wasn't very good at speaking in front of crowds, his writing is awe inspiring.

In 1950, after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature for “The Sound and the Fury” and “As I Lay Dy­ing,” American author William Faulkner (1897-1962) gave this speech about the writer’s duty to remind humanity of its great hopes and promise:

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work — a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim, too, by us­ing this moment as a pinna­cle from which I might be lis­tened to by the young men and women already dedicat­ed to the same anguish and travail, among whom is al­ready that one who will someday stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer prob­lems of the spirit. There is only the question, When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or wom­an writing today has forgot­ten the problems of the hu­man heart in conflict with it­self which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his work­shop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemer­al and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compas­sion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure; that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhausti­ble voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by re­minding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man. It can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.


  1. Beautiful, passionate and inspiring. Thanks for sharing this Faulkner piece. Good words for all of us to hear right now.

  2. Hear, hear!!
    Thanks bb, I really enjoyed that :)

  3. Thanks for posting this - very powerful writing.