Blue Marble in Space
If you put the ants in charge of the picnic, the ants will rearrange the picnic for themselves: there will be no people, only egg sandwiches and cookies. The ants at least know what sort of a world they want to live in, and they are very frank about it. Ants are not hypocritical. The citizens of every country must ask themselves the same question: what sort of world do they want to live in? Being of a Plutonian and sinister cast of mind, I would reduce that sentence to: Do they want to live? Because, drawing back from our human picture – drawing back so that the borders between countries disappear, and the earth becomes a blue marble in space, with much more water on it than land – it is evident that our fate as a species will be determined by whether or not we kill the oceans. If the oceans die, so will we – at least 60 percent of our oxygen comes from marine algaes.
The art we make is specific to the culture that makes it (…).
But there is hope: brilliant minds are already at work on such problems. But meanwhile, what is an artist to do? Why make art at all, in such disturbing times? What is art, anyway? Why should we be bothered with it? What is it for? Learning, teaching, expressing ourselves, describing reality, entertaining us, enacting truth, celebrating, or even denouncing and cursing? There’s no general answer. Human beings have engaged in the arts – music, visual imagery, dramatic performances – including rituals – and language arts, including tale telling – ever since they have been recognizably human. Children respond to language and music before they themselves can speak: those capabilities seem to be built in.
The art we make is specific to the culture that makes it – to its location, to its driving energy system, to its climate and food sources, and to the beliefs connected with all of these. But we have never not made art. For a great many centuries, art was made in the service of the rulers – the kings, the emperors, the popes, the dukes, and such. But ever since romantic and post-romantic times there has been a different expectation of the artist. Surely she or he should speak truth to power, tell the stories that have been suppressed, give voices to the voiceless. And many writers have done that; it has frequently gotten them into trouble, and sometimes it has got them shot. But create they must. They have written in secret, they have smuggled their manuscripts out of unsafe places at risk to their lives.
They have arrived from afar, like the messenger in the Book of Job, fainting from exhaustion, to say: I only am escaped alone to tell thee. To tell thee. To tell thee, Dear Reader, singular. A book is a voice in your ear; the message is – while you are reading it – is for you alone. Reading a book is surely the most intimate experience we can have of the inside of another human being’s mind. Writer, book, and reader – in this triangle, the book is the messenger. And all three are part of one act of creation, as the composer, the player of the symphony, and the listener are all participants in it. The reader is the musician of the book. As for the writer, his or her part done when the book goes out into the world; it is the book that will then live or die, and what happens to the writer is at that point immaterial, from the point of view of the book.
Reading a book is surely the most intimate experience we can have of the inside of another human being’s mind.
Any award winner in the arts is the temporary representative of all the practitioners of that art, and of the community that allows that art to exist – those who have gone before, those from whom we ourselves have learned, those who have died before they were recognized, those who have had to struggle against racial discrimination to find their writing voice, those who have been killed for their political views, and those who have managed to live through periods of oppression and censorship and silencing.
Then there are those who never became writers at all because they were not given the possibility – such as the many North American and Australian and New Zealand story-bearers and oral poets from indigenous cultures of the past and even the present. Doors are opening for such voices all around the world; but other doors are being closed. We need to pay attention to that. So to my teachers, both dead and alive, by whom I mean the very many writers in my life and library; my readers, into whose hands I have entrusted my stories; to all my publishers, who have not considered my work a waste of paper, and who have taken a chance on me; to my agents, companions on this journey; and to all those friends and professionals who have helped and supported me over the years, including my family, both immediate and extended, my mother, a wonderful reader-aloud – thank you for those gifts you have given me. is A gift should be returned or passed on – it should pass from hand to hand, like a book. Let us hope for a world in which such gifts remain possible. Let us not close the doors or silence the voices. One day I will be walking along a beach, or inside a bookstore, and I will find a bottle, or a book, and I will open it, and I will read the message to me from you – yes, you out there, a young writer who perhaps has just been published. And I will say: Yes. I can hear you. I can hear your story. I can hear your voice.