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In 2019, Olga Tokarczuk, a Polish writer and activist, was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature. In commenting on this honor, she said this:
“I first learned that I had won the Nobel prize in the oddest
circumstances – on the motorway, somewhere “In Between”, at a place
with no name. I can’t think of a better metaphor to define the world
we’re living in today. Nowadays we writers are having to confront ever
more improbable challenges, and yet literature is a slow-moving art –
the lengthy process of writing makes it difficult to catch the world
in the act. I often wonder if it’s still possible to describe the
world at all, or if we’re already too helpless in the face of its
increasingly fluid shape, the dissolving of fixed points and
disappearing values. I believe in a literature that unites people and
shows us how very similar we are, that makes us aware of the fact that
we’re all joined together by invisible threads. That tells the story
of the world as if it were a living and unified whole, constantly
developing before our eyes, in which we are just a small but at the
same time powerful part. ”
— Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Jennifer Croft.
There so much here to enjoy and ponder:
“Ever more improbable challenges confront us” — how true this is, as we seek to make meaning out of what’s happened to us, around us, and before us.
“Literature is a slow-moving art” — it takes time and attention to create stories and there’s so much noise to distract and waylay us.
“I believe in a literature that unites people” — one of the greatest gifts w can give ourselves and others is to show that the human heart and needs are the same everywhere.
To me, it’s always wonderful when authors express a sense of mission about their work. Yes, we write to entertain and dazzle, to create a sense of mystery and wonder, but also to remind ourselves and our readers that we are striving to understand all that makes us more similar than different. Words matter! Write on!
*Tokarczuk’s The Book of Jacob will be published in English in late 2020 or
early 2021 by Riverhead and translated by Jennifer Croft.