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Recipient of the National Book Foundation's Medal for
DISTINGUISHED CONTRIBUTION TO AMERICAN LETTERS AWARD, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Stephen King and the National Book Foundation. All rights reserved.
This speech may not be reproduced in any form without written permission.
Photo Credit: Chris Buck
Thank you very much. Thank you all. Thank you for the applause and thank you for coming. I'm delighted to be here but, as I've said before in the last five years, I'm delighted to be anywhere.
This isn't in my speech so don't take it out of my allotted time. There are some people who have spoken out passionately about giving me this medal. There are some people who think it's an extraordinarily bad idea. There have been some people who have spoken out who think it's an extraordinarily good idea. You know who you are and where you stand and most of you who are here tonight are on my side. I'm glad for that. But I want to say it doesn't matter in a sense which side you were on. The people who speak out, speak out because they are passionate about the book, about the word, about the page and, in that sense, we're all brothers and sisters. Give yourself a hand.
Now as for my remarks. The only person who understands how much this award means to me is my wife, Tabitha. I was a writer when I met her in 1967 but my only venue was the campus newspaper where I published a rude weekly column. It turned me into a bit of a celebrity but I was a poor one, scraping through college thanks to a jury-rigged package of loans and scholarships.
A friend of Tabitha Spruce pointed me out to her one winter day as I crossed the mall in my jeans and cut-down green rubber boots. I had a bushy black beard. I hadn't had my hair cut in two years and I looked like Charlie Manson. My wife-to-be clasped her hands between her breasts and said, "I think I'm in love" in a tone dripping with sarcasm.
Tabby Spruce had no more money than I did but with sarcasm she was loaded. When we married in 1971, we already had one child. By the middle of 1972, we had a pair. I taught school and worked in a laundry during the summer. Tabby worked for Dunkin' Donuts. When she was working, I took care of the kids. When I was working, it was vice versa. And writing was always an undisputed part of that work. Tabby finished the first book of our marriage, a slim but wonderful book of poetry called Grimoire.
This is a very atypical audience, one passionately dedicated to books and to the word. Most of the world, however, sees writing as a fairly useless occupation. I've even heard it called mental masturbation, once or twice by people in my family. I never heard that from my wife. She'd read my stuff and felt certain I'd some day support us by writing full time, instead of standing in front of a blackboard and spouting on about Jack London and Ogden Nash. She never made a big deal of this. It was just a fact of our lives. We lived in a trailer and she made a writing space for me in the tiny laundry room with a desk and her Olivetti portable between the washer and dryer. She still tells people I married her for that typewriter but that's only partly true. I married her because I loved her and because we got on as well out of bed as in it. The typewriter was a factor, though.
When I gave up on Carrie, it was Tabby who rescued the first few pages of single spaced manuscript from the wastebasket, told me it was good, said I ought to go on. When I told her I didn't know how to go on, she helped me out with the girls' locker room stuff. There were no inspiring speeches. Tabby does sarcasm, Tabby doesn't do inspiration, never has. It was just "this is pretty good, you ought to keep it going." That was all I needed and she knew it.
There were some hard, dark years before Carrie. We had two kids and no money. We rotated the bills, paying on different ones each month. I kept our car, an old Buick, going with duct tape and bailing wire. It was a time when my wife might have been expected to say, "Why don't you quit spending three hours a night in the laundry room, Steve, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer we can't afford? Why don't you get an actual job?"
Okay, this is the real stuff. If she'd asked, I almost certainly would have done it. And then am I standing up here tonight, making a speech, accepting the award, wearing a radar dish around my neck? Maybe. More likely not. In fact, the subject of moonlighting did come up once. The head of the English department where I taught told me that the debate club was going to need a new faculty advisor and he put me up for the job if I wanted. It would pay $300 per school year which doesn't sound like much but my yearly take in 1973 was only $6,600 and $300 equaled ten weeks worth of groceries.
The English department head told me he'd need my decision by the end of the week. When I told Tabby about the opening, she asked if I'd still have time to write. I told her not as much. Her response to that was unequivocal, "Well then, you can't take it."
One of the few times during the early years of our marriage I saw my wife cry really hard was when I told her that a paperback publisher, New American Library, had paid a ton of money for the book she'd rescued from the trash. I could quit teaching, she could quit pushing crullers at Dunkin' Donuts. She looked almost unbelieving for five seconds and then she put her hands over her face and she wept. When she finally stopped, we went into the living room and sat on our old couch, which Tabby had rescued from a yard sale, and talked into the early hours of the morning about what we were going to do with the money. I've never had a more pleasant conversation. I have never had one that felt more surreal.
My point is that Tabby always knew what I was supposed to be doing and she believed that I would succeed at it. There is a time in the lives of most writers when they are vulnerable, when the vivid dreams and ambitions of childhood seem to pale in the harsh sunlight of what we call the real world. In short, there's a time when things can go either way.
That vulnerable time for me came during 1971 to 1973. If my wife had suggested to me even with love and kindness and gentleness rather than her more common wit and good natured sarcasm that the time had come to put my dreams away and support my family, I would have done that with no complaint. I believe that on some level of thought I was expecting to have that conversation. If she had suggested that you can't buy a loaf of bread or a tube of toothpaste with rejection slips, I would have gone out and found a part time job.
Tabby has told me since that it never crossed her mind to have such a conversation. You had a second job, she said, in the laundry room with my typewriter. I hope you know, Tabby, that they are clapping for you and not for me. Stand up so they can see you, please. Thank you. Thank you. I did not let her see this speech, and I will hear about this later.
Now, there are lots of people who will tell you that anyone who writes genre fiction or any kind of fiction that tells a story is in it for the money and nothing else. It's a lie. The idea that all storytellers are in it for the money is untrue but it is still hurtful, it's infuriating and it's demeaning. I never in my life wrote a single word for money. As badly as we needed money, I never wrote for money. From those early days to this gala black tie night, I never once sat down at my desk thinking today I'm going to make a hundred grand. Or this story will make a great movie. If I had tried to write with those things in mind, I believe I would have sold my birthright for a plot of message, as the old pun has it. Either way, Tabby and I would still be living in a trailer or an equivalent, a boat. My wife knows the importance of this award isn't the recognition of being a great writer or even a good writer but the recognition of being an honest writer.
Frank Norris, the author of McTeague, said something like this: "What should I care if they, i.e., the critics, single me out for sneers and laughter? I never truckled, I never lied. I told the truth." And that's always been the bottom line for me. The story and the people in it may be make believe but I need to ask myself over and over if I've told the truth about the way real people would behave in a similar situation.
Of course, I only have my own senses, experiences and reading to draw on but that usually - not always but usually - usually it's enough. It gets the job done. For instance, if an elevator full of people, one of the ones in this very building - I want you to think about this later, I want you to think about it - if it starts to vibrate and you hear those clanks - this probably won't happen but we all know it has happened, it could happen. It could happen to me or it could happen to you. Someone always wins the lottery. Just put it away for now until you go up to your rooms later. Anyway, if an elevator full of people starts free-falling from the 35th floor of the skyscraper all the way to the bottom, one of those view elevators, perhaps, where you can watch it happening, in my opinion, no one is going to say, "Goodbye, Neil, I will see you in heaven." In my book or my short story, they're far more apt to bellow, "Oh shit" at the top of their lungs because what I've read and heard tends to confirm the "Oh shit" choice. If that makes me a cynic, so be it.
I remember a story on the nightly news about an airliner that crashed killing all aboard. The so-called black box was recovered and we have the pilot's immortal last four words: "Son of a bitch". Of course, there was another plane that crashed and the black box recorder said, "Goodbye, Mother," which is a nicer way to go out, I think.
Folks are far more apt to go out with a surprised ejaculation, however, then an expiring abjuration like, "Marry her, Jake. Bible says it ain't good for a man to be alone." If I happen to be the writer of such a death bed scene, I'd choose "Son of a bitch" over "Marry her, Jake" every time. We understand that fiction is a lie to begin with. To ignore the truth inside the lie is to sin against the craft, in general, and one's own work in particular.
I'm sure I've made the wrong choices from time to time. Doesn't the Bible say something like, "for all have sinned and come short of the glory of Chaucer?" But every time I did it, I was sorry. Sorry is cheap, though. I have revised the lie out if I could and that's far more important. When readers are deeply entranced by a story, they forget the storyteller completely. The tale is all they care about.
But the storyteller cannot afford to forget and must always be ready to hold himself or herself to account. He or she needs to remember that the truth lends verisimilitude to the lies that surround it. If you tell your reader, "Sometimes chickens will pick out the weakest one in the flock and peck it to death," the truth, the reader is much more likely to go along with you than if you then add something like, "Such chickens often meld into the earth after their deaths."
How stringently the writer holds to the truth inside the lie is one of the ways that he can judge how seriously he takes his craft. My wife, who doesn't seem to know how to a lie even in a social context where people routinely say things like, "You look wonderful, have you lost weight?" has always understood these things without needing to have them spelled out. She's what the Bible calls a pearl beyond price. She also understands why I was in those early days so often bitterly angry at writers who were considered "literary." I knew I didn't have quite enough talent or polish to be one of them so there was an element of jealousy, but I was also infuriated by how these writers always seemed to have the inside track in my view at that time.
Even a note in the acknowledgments page of a novel thanking the this or that foundation for its generous assistance was enough to set me off. I knew what it meant, I told my wife. It was the Old Boy Network at work. It was this, it was that, on and on and blah, blah, blah. It is only in retrospect that I realize how much I sounded like my least favorite uncle who believed there really was an international Jewish cabal running everything from the Ford Motor Company to the Federal Reserve.
Tabitha listened to a fair amount of this pissing and moaning and finally told me to stop with the breast beating. She said to save my self-pity and turn my energy to the typewriter. She paused and then added, my typewriter. I did because she was right and my anger played much better when channeled into about a dozen stories which I wrote in 1973 and early 1974. Not all of them were good but most of them were honest and I realized an amazing thing: Readers of the men's magazines where I was published were remembering my name and starting to look for it. I could hardly believe it but it appeared that people wanted to read what I was writing. There's never been a thrill in my life to equal that one. With Tabby's help, I was able to put aside my useless jealousy and get writing again. I sold more of my short stories. I sold Carrie and the rest, as they say, is history.
There's been a certain amount of grumbling about the decision to give the award to me and since so much of this speech has been about my wife, I wanted to give you her opinion on the subject. She's read everything I've written, making her something of an expert, and her view of my work is loving but unsentimental. Tabby says I deserve the medal not just because some good movies were made from my stories or because I've provided high motivational reading material for slow learners, she says I deserve the medal because I am a, quote, "Damn good writer".
I've tried to improve myself with every book and find the truth inside the lie. Sometimes I have succeeded. I salute the National Book Foundation Board, who took a huge risk in giving this award to a man many people see as a rich hack. For far too long the so-called popular writers of this country and the so-called literary writers have stared at each other with animosity and a willful lack of understanding. This is the way it has always been. Witness my childish resentment of anyone who ever got a Guggenheim.
But giving an award like this to a guy like me suggests that in the future things don't have to be the way they've always been. Bridges can be built between the so-called popular fiction and the so-called literary fiction. The first gainers in such a widening of interest would be the readers, of course, which is us because writers are almost always readers and listeners first. You have been very good and patient listeners and I'm going to let you go soon but I'd like to say one more thing before I do.
Tokenism is not allowed. You can't sit back, give a self satisfied sigh and say, "Ah, that takes care of the troublesome pop lit question. In another twenty years or perhaps thirty, we'll give this award to another writer who sells enough books to make the best seller lists." It's not good enough. Nor do I have any patience with or use for those who make a point of pride in saying they've never read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark or any other popular writer.
What do you think? You get social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture? Never in life, as Capt. Lucky Jack Aubrey would say. And if your only point of reference for Jack Aubrey is the Australian actor, Russell Crowe, shame on you.
There's a writer here tonight, my old friend and some time collaborator, Peter Straub. He's just published what may be the best book of his career. Lost Boy Lost Girl surely deserves your consideration for the NBA short list next year, if not the award itself. Have you read it? Have any of the judges read it?
There's another writer here tonight who writes under the name of Jack Ketchum and he has also written what may be the best book of his career, a long novella called The Crossings. Have you read it? Have any of the judges read it? And yet Jack Ketchum's first novel, Off Season published in 1980, set off a furor in my supposed field, that of horror, that was unequaled until the advent of Clive Barker. It is not too much to say that these two gentlemen remade the face of American popular fiction and yet very few people here will have an idea of who I'm talking about or have read the work.
This is not criticism, it's just me pointing out a blind spot in the winnowing process and in the very act of reading the fiction of one's own culture. Honoring me is a step in a different direction, a fruitful one, I think. I'm asking you, almost begging you, not to go back to the old way of doing things. There's a great deal of good stuff out there and not all of it is being done by writers whose work is regularly reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. I believe the time comes when you must be inclusive rather than exclusive.
That said, I accept this award on behalf of such disparate writers as Elmore Leonard, Peter Straub, Nora Lofts, Jack Ketchum, whose real name is Dallas Mayr, Jodi Picoult, Greg Iles, John Grisham, Dennis Lehane, Michael Connolly, Pete Hamill and a dozen more. I hope that the National Book Award judges, past, present and future, will read these writers and that the books will open their eyes to a whole new realm of American literature. You don't have to vote for them, just read them.
Okay, thanks for bearing with me. This is the last page? This is it. Parting is such sweet sorrow. My message is simple enough. We can build bridges between the popular and the literary if we keep our minds and hearts open. With my wife's help, I have tried to do that. Now I'm going to turn the actual medal over to her because she will make sure in all the excitement that it doesn't get lost.
In closing, I want to say that I hope you all find something good to read tonight or tomorrow. I want to salute all the nominees in the four categories that are up for consideration and I do, I hope you'll find something to read that will fill you up as this evening as filled me up. Thank you.
Copyright © 2003 Stephen King and the National Book Foundation. All rights reserved. This speech may not be reproduced in any form without written permission.
Dear Friends of Frank:
On Friday, October 24, 2003, the family and a caregiver boarded a chartered plane in California and flew to their new home just outside Raleigh, NC. Frank will live at home for the first time since his accident, in a house that has been modified specifically for Frank's therapeutic and rehabilitative needs, and that provides a setting for the family to reestablish their life together.
The flight went very well. After Frank entered the small plane and sat down, he exclaimed "Sweet ride!" The aircraft included a couch for Frank to sleep on in case he needed it, but he spent most of the time enjoying the flight. They were warmly received at their new home by Erika's parents, Frank's sister Tanny and her daughter Rachel, Frank's brother Henry, and Frank's friend Scott Swimmer, who was also the contractor for the house renovations (and did an incredible job!).
Erica said Frank was so happy to be there. She told him, "Frank, you're HOME!!" Scott told me this morning, "I was elated to witness Frank's arrival home. It is so right and he knew it. He raised his arms up high and YELLED. Twice!"
New caregivers and rehab therapists have been engaged and are being trained to care for Frank and continue his recovery process. This will still be slow and difficult work. Frank's progress remains "variable," a term we have heard often the last few months. Some days he has extended periods of focus and lucidity and seems very present to others, especially Erika, the kids and the dogs. Other days are less so. In general, however, he seems to be increasing his capacity for short-term memory, his vision appears to be improving slightly, and his periods of lucidity are increasing.
Frank will still need help with many daily tasks of living, such as dressing, grooming, eating, etc. He needs constant cues for many tasks and body movements. However, he seems to be taking more initiative with various tasks. He has extended his walking distances, and makes transfers in and out of his wheel chair with more consistency. These small steps are encouraging and indicate that progress, however slow, is still being made.
It still appears that Frank will need long-term, full-time care, although we have not ruled out the possibility of recovery beyond that stage. The likelihood of Frank returning to his career as a narrator of recorded books, however, is very small. Frank's eyesight has a long way to go, and his speech patterns, although improving, are still quite limited. Moreover, the cognitive presence and ability that would be required to perform the complex skills required for narration at Frank's previous level appear to be well out of reach.
Erika is more committed than ever to Frank's success and the family's health and well-being. She is so happy to have Frank out of the hospital and in his own home. They are settling peacefully into their new environs, and have already had several outings in the community. The area there seems to be a very good place for them to be. Erika feels that this move will bring new levels of rehabilitation and recovery for Frank, renewed strength and support for her and a positive new beginning for their young family.
All the best,
Stephen King was hospitalized on Sunday, November 23, 2003 at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine. He was diagnosed with pneumonia in the right lung before a recent trip to New York City and an appearance at the National Book Awards Ceremonies, where he received a medal for his contributions to American literature. His condition worsened on his return to Bangor and the pneumonia spread to the other lung. He was diagnosed with pleural effusion and underwent drainage procedures to remove fluid from the lung. Since fluid remained in the lung, he underwent a thoracotomy on Tuesday, November 25, 2003. This procedure, performed by a thoracic surgeon, succeeded in removing fluid and scar tissue from the right lung. Stephen is likely to remain hospitalized for several days. He is conscious and in good spirits, and happy to be able to breathe deeply again. He is expected to achieve a full recovery, has requested no visitors aside from family, and no flowers. Stephen and his family ask only for good wishes and prayers, and that at this time, when we celebrate the bounty of our country, that we remember those who are in need.
Stephen to receive National Book Foundation 2003 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American LePosted: September 15th, 2003 3:14:41 pm
STEPHEN KING TO RECEIVE NATIONAL BOOK FOUNDATION 2003 MEDAL FOR DISTINGUISHED CONTRIBUTION TO AMERICAN LETTERS
Best-Selling Author Will Be 15th Recipient of Literary Honor At National Book Awards Ceremony on November 19
NEW YORK, NY (Monday, September 15, 2003) – The Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation (www.nationalbook.org) today announced that its 2003 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters will be conferred upon Stephen King, one of the nation’s most popular, imaginative, and well-loved authors.
Mr. King has published more than 200 short stories (including the O. Henry Award-winning “The Man in the Black Suit”) and 40 books during a career spanning three decades. He has earned the reputation among readers and booklovers as a genre-defying stylist, vivid storyteller, and master of suspense.
The Medal will be presented to Mr. King on Wednesday evening, November 19, at the 54th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square. Mr. King will deliver a keynote address to an audience of more than 1,000 authors, editors, publishers, friends, and supporters of books and book publishing. The evening benefits the National Book Foundation’s many educational outreach programs for readers and writers across the country.
The annual award was created in 1988 by the Foundation’s Board of Directors to celebrate an American author who has enriched the literary landscape through a lifetime of service or body of work.
The previous recipients are Jason Epstein, Daniel Boorstin, Saul Bellow, Eudora Welty, James Laughlin, Clifton Fadiman, Gwendolyn Brooks, David McCullough, Toni Morrison, Studs Terkel, John Updike, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Miller, and Philip Roth.
In making the announcement on behalf of the Board of Directors, Neil Baldwin, executive director of the Foundation, said, “Stephen King’s writing is securely rooted in the great American tradition that glorifies spirit-of-place and the abiding power of narrative. He crafts stylish, mind-bending page-turners that contain profound moral truths – some beautiful, some harrowing – about our inner lives. This Award commemorates Mr. King’s well-earned place of distinction in the wide world of readers and booklovers of all ages.”
Mr. King will receive $10,000 along with the Medal.
“This is probably the most exciting thing to happen to me in my career as a writer since the sale of my first book in 1973,” Mr. King said. “I'll return the cash award to the National Book Foundation for the support of their many educational and literary outreach programs for children and youth across the country; the Medal I will keep and treasure for the rest of my life.”
With the publication in 1974 of Carrie, his first novel, Stephen King quickly established a devout readership and cemented his reputation as America’s premier horror-writer. Since then and at a pace matched by few others, Mr. King, 55, has worn many hats and has set a number of sales records along the way. More than 300 million copies of his books are in print, including The Shining (1977), Pet Sematary (1983), and Misery (1987); a memoir, On Writing (2000); a six-part novel, The Green Mile (1996); and a fantasy/Western series, The Dark Tower. The fifth installment of that series, Wolves of the Calla, will be published on November 4.
Mr. King’s work has been translated into 33 languages, been published in 35 countries, and has been the basis for more than 70 films, television movies, and mini-series – a Guinness world record. Well known for his philanthropy, Mr. King provides scholarships for Maine high school students, in addition to making contributions to local and national charities through The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation. He and his wife, novelist Tabitha King, have three children and three grandchildren, and divide their time between Maine and Florida.
In addition to Mr. King’s recognition, the November 19th ceremony will also feature the announcement of the four Winners of the 2003 National Book Awards in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature. The highly anticipated list of 20 Finalists in these four categories will be announced at a press conference at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, October 15.
Updated information regarding the National Book Foundation’s 2003 Gala Awards Ceremony and Dinner, as well as events in conjunction with National Book Month (October), can be found on the Foundation’s website www.nationalbook.org.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL BOOK FOUNDATION
The National Book Foundation is the sponsor of America’s most prestigious literary prize, the National Book Award. The organization promotes the reading and appreciation of great American literature among audiences across the country. The Foundation sponsors a host of programs involving author residencies in New York City public schools, settlement houses, major urban libraries, American Indian reservations, and other under-served communities. Its many educational programs – including the 10-year-old Summer Writing Camp for emerging authors – were recently honored by being designated as Semifinalists for the “Coming Up Taller Awards,” a project of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities celebrating exemplary programs fostering the creative and intellectual development of children and youth. The mission of the National Book Foundation is to promote the enduring tradition of National Book Award texts, and “literate literacy”: reading, writing and an understanding of “the writing life” for all audiences.
ANDREW McCARTHY, DIANE LADD AND BRUCE DAVISON ARE FIRST TO JOIN THE CAST OF THE STEPHEN KING’S NEW DRAMA SERIES, “STEPHEN KING’S KINGDOM HOSPITAL”
Two-Hour Premiere Airs Thursday, February 5, 2004, on ABC
Andrew McCarthy (“Monk,” “Pretty in Pink”), Academy Award nominee Diane Ladd (“Primary Colors,” “Rambling Rose”) and Academy Award nominee Bruce Davison (“X-Men II,” “Longtime Companion”) have been cast in the haunting new fifteen-hour drama series, “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital,” created directly for television by the award-winning, best-selling master of horror. The two-hour series premiere airs THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2004, (9:00-11:00 p.m., ET/PT), with subsequent one-hour episodes airing Thursday, 9:00-10:00 p.m., ET, on The ABC Television Network.
McCarthy will play the role of Dr. Hook, a brilliant surgeon who resides in the hospital’s basement and has a penchant for collecting medical equipment. Ladd will play Mrs. Druse, a psychic hypochondriac whose strong connection to the spirit world repeatedly draws her to the emergency room of Kingdom Hospital. Davison will play Dr. Stegman (“Steg”), whose absent bedside manner and arrogance are paralleled only by his ineptitude as a physician.
Using Lars Von Trier’s Danish miniseries “Riget” (a.k.a. “The Kingdom”) as a point of inspiration, Stephen King gives this series a unique, darkly comedic and menacing American touch. King himself describes it as “ER” crossed with “The Shining.”
Production will begin August 11 on location in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“Kingdom” is a hospital the bizarre population of which includes a nearly blind security guard, a nurse who regularly faints at the sight of blood and a paraplegic artist whose recovery is a step beyond miraculous. But when patients and staff hear the tortured voice of a little girl crying through the halls, they are dismissive of any suggestion of mysticism or unseen powers... at their own peril.
“Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital” will be executive-produced by Stephen King and Mark Carliner (Emmy Award-winning producer of “Stalin,” Golden Globe and Peabody Award-winning producer of “George Wallace”) and directed by Craig Baxley (“Stephen King’s Rose Red”). Richard Dooling provides technical support. “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital” will be produced by Sony Pictures in association with Touchstone Television.
... THE CALLA IN FALL '03
Unique Multi-Publisher Venture Will Complete 7-Book Series, Written Over More Than 30 Years; Three Publishers will Coordinate Efforts
New York, NY-International best-selling writer Stephen King has finished the last three volumes of his Dark Tower series and will publish the first on November 4, 2003 with Donald M. Grant Publisher, Inc., a small press in New Hampshire which has published the prior four Dark Tower books, and with Scribner, the publisher of his recent novels, it was announced today by Robert K. Wiener, President of Donald M.Grant and by Susan Moldow, Executive Vice President and Publisher of Scribner. Prior to the publication of the new volume there will be a special promotion of the Dark Tower backlist, in hardcover as well as paperback editions, from Penguin Group (USA) publishers, Viking, Plume Books and New American Library.
The unusual arrangement was co-brokered by King's long-time manager Arthur Greene and editor, Chuck Verrill of Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman, a literary agency. This is the first time, according to Greene, that three unaffiliated publishers have come together to publish a series of books, by one author in one territory.
The launch of the final three volumes will commence with a massive promotion in June of Volumes I-IV of the series in Viking hardcover and Plume trade paperback: The Gunslinger, (first published in 1982), The Drawing of the Three, (1987), The Waste Lands, (1991) and Wizard and Glass, (1997). King has written a new introduction to the series that will be included in the new hardcover, and redesigned trade paperback editions of all four books, including the first publication of a newly revised and expanded edition of The Gunslinger, a tale King began writing in 1970, five years before the publication of his first novel, Carrie.
The New American Library mass-market editions will follow monthly from July through October. In November, Donald M. Grant with Scribner will publish Wolves of the Calla, the fifth volume in the series, in a high-quality, illustrated edition for the general trade, retailing at $35. The arrangement will continue for the publication of the remaining books. Song of Susannah, Volume VI, will follow in summer 2004 and The Dark Tower, the seventh and final novel in the series, will be published in November 2004. Illustrated trade paperback editions will follow each hardcover at roughly six-month intervals. Mass-market editions from Pocket Books will follow eventually. Wolves of the Calla will be illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, Song of Susannah by Darrel Anderson, and The Dark Tower by Michael Whelan, who illustrated the original Grant edition of The Gunslinger.
Commenting on the series, King said, "I started writing the Dark Tower when I was still in college. It's been a major part of my life and my writing career. I wanted to finish it both for the readers, who have been so devoted, and for myself. In the upcoming books you'll meet new characters and you'll see familiar faces like Ted Brautigan from Hearts in Atlantis, Father Callahan from Salem's Lot…even Dinky Earnshaw from Everything's Eventual. For me, it's like a finale and a reunion, all at once. I've put everything I've got into these three books, and I think it shows. I can say something about them I've only been able to say about a handful of my previous novels: They work, they're good, and I'm proud to have written them."
Said Clare Ferraro, President of Viking and Plume Books, "It's a great pleasure to join forces with him again to publish what certainly constituted the most ambitious work of his career. These new editions of the Dark Tower will be eagerly awaited by his fans and provide new readers with a chance to 'begin at the beginning' of this epic work."
To complement the publication of the existing books in the series and the final three novels, Scribner will also publish a two-volume concordance, a reference for the series detailing character names, places and other cross-references in the books. The first will cover Volumes I-IV in the series and the second, will cover Volumes V-VII. Stephen King's The Dark Tower: A Concordance, Volume I, written by Robin Furth, will be published in June. Volume II, also by Furth, will be published in November 2004 in conjunction with the Scribner publication of the final book in the Tower series. King has written an introduction for the concordance.
"The Dark Tower is one of the most beloved series in modern publishing history," said Scribner's publisher Susan Moldow. "For fans who've been waiting for all these years to find out how it ends, the news that the three final volumes will be available within a year will be a cause for jubilation."
The Dark Tower novels have a unique history in publishing. Beginning with a short story published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, King has been working on what became his epic fantasy quest for thirty-two years. The Gunslinger appeared in hardcover only in a limited edition from Donald M. Grant in 1982. The Plume trade paperback edition published five years later became a #1 national bestseller. The pattern of a high-priced limited edition from Donald M. Grant, followed by a #1 trade paperback from Plume continued for the next three books at almost regular five year intervals. The summer promotion of Volumes I-IV from Viking and the fall publication of Wolves of the Calla will be the first time that any new hardcover of a Dark Tower book will be available to as wide an audience as demands it. And the fact that King has completed the last three books signals for the first time that someone who commences the series can be assured of reading it to the end.
Robert Wiener said "Prior to its publication Donald Grant himself declared The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger 'The most important fantasy volume in the history of specialty publishing.' Twenty-one years and four books later, this scheduled release of the remaining volumes is cause for even greater anticipation and excitement for King fans everywhere."
Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine in 1947. He has published over 40 books and is considered one of the world's most successful writers. He and his wife, Tabitha, are regular contributors to a number of charities including many libraries and have been honored for their philanthropic activities.
Scribner is a division of Simon & Schuster, part of the entertainment operation of Viacom Inc., a global leader in the field of general interest publishing, dedicated to providing the best in fiction and nonfiction for consumers of all ages, across all printed, electronic and multi-media formats. Its divisions include the Simon &Schuster Adult Publishing Group, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, Simon & Schuster New Media, Simon & Schuster Online, and international companies in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. For more information, visit our website at http://www.simonsays.com
Penguin Group (USA) Inc. is the U.S. member of the internationally renowned Penguin Group. Penguin Group (USA) is one of the leading U.S. adult and children's trade book publishers, owning a wide range of imprints and trademarks, including Berkley Books, Dutton, Frederick Warne, G.P. Putnam's Sons, Grosset & Dunlap, New American Library, Penguin, Philomel, Riverhead Books and Viking, among others. The Penguin Group is part of Pearson plc, the international media company. For more information, visit our website at http://www.penguinputnam.com.
Donald M. Grant, Publisher has been producing fine specialty editions in the fantasy genre for over 55 years. Over that period the company has published substantially more than 125 quality titles (including eight by Stephen King), placing an emphasis on time-honored book design, an abundance of full color and black and white illustrations and quality-sewn binding. For more information visit our website at http://www.grantbooks.com.
February 13, 2003
DARK TOWER SERIES PUBLICATION HISTORY
|Donald M. Grant
Limited Edition Hardcover Pub Date
Trade Paperback Pub Date
Mass Market Pub Date
|The Drawing of the Three
|The Waste Lands
|Wizard and Glass
AND PLUME TRADE PAPERBACK
REISSUES OF DARK TOWER BOOKS I - IV
|The Drawing of the Three
|The Waste Lands
|Wizard and Glass
PUBLICATION SCHEDULE FOR
FUTURE DARK TOWER BOOKS V - VII,
|Wolves of the Calla
|Song of Susannah
|The Dark Tower
[Stephen King sat down with himself on the evening of June 3,2002, to discuss his progress on the last three Dark Tower novels, and to talk a little bit about what readers can expect. And when.
The interview ended with the Red Sox game still in progress, but it can be noted here that they went on to lose. But then, so did the Yankees.]
Steve: Thanks very much for making this time to talk about The Dark Tower for visitors to your website.
S.K. Well, it's your website, too, you know.
Steve: That's true.
S.K. And this'll have to be a real shortie, because the Red Sox are playing tonight. I checked, though, and Pedro just gave up a home run to the Tigers' lead-off hitter, so maybe that's not a priority.
Steve: We'll keep it brief, just the same. As a matter of personal curiosity, do you find interviewing yourself difficult?
S.K. No. All writers talk to themselves, I think. This is just another version of that.
Steve: What are you listening to these days?
S.K. Well, the new Eminem record kicks major ass. The guy is funny, smart, and sometimes shocking. Those are all things I look for in rock and roll.
Steve: Eminem's a rapper.
S.K. It's all rock and roll to me, although Eminem might not go along with that. In fact, he'd probably get his buddy Slim Shady to call me on the phone and tell me to go fuck myself.
Steve: Seen anything good at the movies?
S.K. Unfaithful. Good suspense and beautifully photographed. Everyone's talking about Diane Lane, but I was startled by what a wonderfully understated performance Richard Gere turned in.
Steve: Seen Clones?
S.K. (laughs) You sound like that ad: "Got milk?" No. Next week, I think. I've been waiting for the crowds to thin. I'll probably enjoy it. People have gotten into the habit of expecting far too much from those movies, you know-from the first one on, they've been loving recreations of the movie serials that George Lucas must have been hooked on as a kid-the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers stuff. Nothing expresses that so clearly as titles like "A New Hope" and "The Attack of the Clones," or whatever it is. And then the critics act pissed because they're getting popcorn movies instead of Truffaut.
Steve: So let's get down to business.
S.K. Let's. You've only got ten minutes left.
Steve: Then why'd you waste my time, gassing about George Lucas and Eminem?
S.K. It was my time, too. If you see what I mean.
Steve (sighs): All right, where are you vis à vis The Dark Tower?
S.K. Well, Book 5, Wolves of the Calla, and Book 6, Song of Susannah, are both done-down on paper, anyway. I'd say the last book, which is simply called The Dark Tower, is about a third of the way. That's a total of 1900 manuscript pages since last July. It's easily the biggest project I've ever taken on, and I'm throwing in everything I have. Including a little craft, actually. But I'm tired, so-
Steve: Time off, right?
S.K. Yeah. Need to shut everything down for a little while and recharge.
Steve: How long?
S.K. If the computer screens stay dark and I can keep from picking up a legal pad, a month should do it. I'll be crazy by July 4th, but I should be rested and ready to rock.
Steve: Happy with everything so far?
S.K. I don't know how I feel. Weird, I guess. You have to remember that this project spans over thirty years of my life, and a lot of other books I've written have this as their basis. I feel a little like Cal Ripken, making his farewell tour of all the stadiums in the American League. But in the quiet room where I work, no one's cheering. I just hope some of them will when they read the pages. You have to remember that, for most Steve King readers, Roland the gunslinger's never been a priority. The Dark Tower books are - well, they're different.
Steve: Father Callahan from 'Salem's Lot turns up in these books, doesn't he?
S.K. Yeah. Also Ted Brautigan from Hearts in Atlantis, Sheemie the tavern-boy from Wizard and Glass - even Dinky Earnshawe from the short story "Everything's Eventual."
Steve: Who's doing the art for the Donald Grant editions?
S.K. Some good people. Great people, actually. Berni Wrightson's gonna do the illustrations for Wolves. I've already seen some roughs, and they are so fucking terrific. Darrel Anderson is going to do Song of Susannah, and I'm hoping that Michael Whelan will sign up to do the paintings for the final volume, The Dark Tower.
Steve: Wow, he did the first one, right?
S.K. Yeah, and it's his version of Roland I always see in my mind's eye when I write. I really hope this happens. He'd be the only one to do pictures for two of the books, but since he was there at the beginning, it'd be great if he was there at the end. Alpha and omega, baby.
Steve: Big question. When will they be published?
S.K. That's an impossible question to answer while the books are still not finished. Let me put it this way. If everything went perfectly-the way they do in your daydreams, where you pitch no-hitters and win Academy Awards-Wolves would be published by Donald Grant Publishers sometime late in 2003. Song and Tower would follow in short order.
Steve: You mean they'd come out like three months apart?
S.K. Roughly, yeah.
Steve: If we're talking about long books, those will be expensive items-Grant does beautiful work, and then there's the illustrations.
S.K. They'll be expensive, all right. The Grant editions have always been pricey, right from Book One, The Gunslinger.
Steve: Will the fans think you're ripping them off?
S.K. I don't know. I hope not, because I ain't. You know that saying about how you can't please all the people all of the time? Back in the old Dark Tower days [1982, 1987, 1992] I used to get letters from fans howling that they couldn't get the books at any price, because they were limited editions. The assumption that anyone with the money should be entitled to anything makes me crazy, but let's not go there tonight. In this case, there'll be books for anyone who wants them, so at least there shouldn't be complaints on that score. Unless something goes wrong, which I suppose is always a possibility. But for me, it's a personal decision. Grant wanted Roland of Gilead when nobody else, including my own mainstream publisher, wanted anything from me but horror stories. I started with Grant, and although Don himself is now retired-living the good life in Florida, I believe, with his lovely wife-I intend to finish with Grant. Robert Wiener's now at the helm, and he's a damned good guy. I'd salute and call him captain any day, tell you that.
Steve: What about the paperbacks? They should be more affordable.
S.K. Yeah. I really don't want to skin anybody for these books. If things go as I hope they will, the trade paperbacks will follow hot on the heels of the hardcovers. Much more affordable.
Steve: A six-month lag-time, would you say?
S.K. Sounds about right, but that's not worked out yet. The trade paperback editions will come from Scribner's, they'll have all the illustrations and grace-notes, and they'll sell for a lot less scratch.
Steve: How much is a lot less scratch?
S.K. All I could do is guess.
S.K. Why are you being such a bastard to me tonight?
Steve: I am you. Guess.
S.K. Shit, I don't know. Say twenty bucks each, but don't hold me to it.
Steve: And then the mass market paperbacks from Pocket Books?
S.K. I'd presume.
Steve: A year later.
S.K. That's usually the deal, yeah.
Steve: And for people who want to catch up, what about the first four volumes? Are they still available in New American Library editions?
S.K. Yeah. Signet's putting new covers on the mass market paperbacks.
Steve: Will Plume re-issue their trade paperbacks, do you think? There were some great illustrations in those.
S.K. Hope so, but I really couldn't tell you. I haven't had a lot of contact with those folks since the Penguin Putnam Era began over at Viking and NAL.
Steve: And now Phyllis Grann has moved on.
S.K. Yep. So she has.
Steve: Any comments on that?
S.K. Nope. Are we about through here?
Steve: Two more questions, maybe. The first one: There were these nifty little synopsis things at the beginning of Books 2, 3, and 4. Will we see those in the last three?
S.K. No. The Dark Tower is really a single novel. Those who've followed the story up to this point can pick up right where they left off, with no problem. For those who've never read The Dark Tower series at all - well, Wolves of the Calla is not the place to start. Those people would do better to go back to the beginning. A synopsis would be as long as a novella, and confusing at that. What's your last question? The Red Sox have tied it, 4-4 in the fourth.
Steve: Will these books really get finished?
S.K. Until you write THE END at the bottom of the last page, you can never be sure; a storm can always come up and sink your little boat. I know about storms, because I've had a few in my life. All I can say is that I'm trying as hard as I can, and so far the work seems good to me. On a day by day basis, I'm having a great time, and that's usually a good sign.
Steve: Will Roland and his friends make it to the Dark Tower? And if they do, what will they find there?
S.K. It's time for me to go and watch some baseball.
Thank you, President Fergusson-Trustees-members of the faculty-family members-and-of course-you graduates of 2001.
Last week, this week, next week; all over America young men and women-and some not so young-in caps and gowns are listening to scholars, politicians, eminent thinkers, and probably Oprah Winfrey send them forth into their lives. You here at Vassar have invited the man most commonly seen as America's Boogeyman to do that, and I have to ask you What were you thinking? What in God's name were you thinking?
Possibly that I'd take the day off and paint you a shining picture-"shining," get it? that one's mine-of a glorious American future where George W. Bush rules like Glinda the Good, with Dick Cheney at his right hand and John Ashcroft at his left? Not going to happen. Dubya may be the Wizard of Oz but he's no Glinda, and the boogeyman never takes the day off. I guess no one told you that—and now it's too late.
In that spirit, I invite you now to take a look around and imprint this cheerful scene on your mind. Make it a mental Kodak Moment. Have you got it? Okay, now close your eyes. Seriously. Nothing will bite you. All I want you to do is to see what you were just looking at with your eyes open.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, cast your minds a hundred years into the future. It's May 20th, 2101. Imagine this stage and these same folding chairs on this same lawn, but now there's a sign over the stage that says VASSAR WELCOMES THE SURVIVORS OF THE 2001 COMMENCEMENT EXERCISES. Keep your eyes shut just a moment longer, okay? They've put out a chair for everyone that's here today. One for each student, parent, grandparent, sibling; one for each faculty member and invited guest. Do you see those chairs? Sure you do. Your imagination is getting a great view of them. Because if we reunited a hundred years from today, we wouldn't need to hold the festivities on [the side lawn at Vassar]; we could get everyone left into the newsstand at the Courtyard Marriott out on Route 9.
We're looking at some marvelous medical advances over the next hundred years-most cancers will be treatable and beatable, at least for those who have the resources; with genetic tailoring, a good many children may actually be born cancer-immune—but none of those wonder-children are here today. We have incredible new drugs to protect against stroke and heart attack-drugs which should be almost unnecessary, given what we now know about the lifestyle markers leading up to stroke and heart attack, but what we know and how we behave are often divergent paths, aren't they? Human nature is for the most part an alligator that just wants to doze in the sun and snatch whatever prey happens to wander too close. We know too much cholesterol is bad for us, but God I love a box of french fries. And I'm not the only one.
Our pills and treatments are largely designed to work in spite of human nature, and more and more often they actually do that. Given what we now know about the human genome, there are apt to be even more striking advances over the coming decades, some of which we can foresee now no more than the visionaries of 1970, when I graduated college, could foresee America's amazing transition from a purveyor of goods to a purveyor of information. The land of big shoulders has become the land of smart guys and gals with pens in their pockets, CD players in their computers, and beepers on their belts. Hardly anyone saw it coming, but here it is.
What I'm saying is that I don't see all empty chairs when I close my eyes. I do believe that there are people here today who could still come to a reunion a hundred years from today, but as I say, I think you'd hardly need [the side lawn] to accommodate them. Since we started today, have you heard the occasional cry of a baby? Some young American more interested in eating or getting into a dry diaper than in listening to all this rhetoric? I'd suggest that those few crying babies are your most likely hundred-year survivors-always assuming the world itself continues to survive-and while a few of them might show up in wheelchairs or on walkers, I'll bet many would be tres spry. Alzheimer's? Nah. Most of them will have ninth-generation computer chips in their heads, serving as firewalls against that problem. Diabetes? Maybe, but those who have lost limbs to the disease will have computer-driven prosthetics which have complete range of motion and even feeling-they'll occasionally itch, and go numb if you fall asleep in the wrong position.
So there will be hundred-year survivors. But I have to tell you the scary truth, because that's my job. You know the old proverb, don't you, about the woman who carries the drowning scorpion across the raging stream? Once they're on the other side it stings her and as she staggers to her knees, dying, she reproaches it for ingratitude. "C'mon, lady," it says, "you knew I was a scorpion when you picked me up." And you knew I was the scary guy when you picked me for this job, so deal with it.
Any trustees, Board of Directors, faculty, at our one-hundred-year get-together in 2101? Maybe a couple of faculty. We'll be generous and say two. But they're in their hundred-and-thirties and not much good in a game of Frisbee. Grandparents? Gone, of course. Aunts and uncles? Gone. Parents? With maybe a couple of exceptions, gone. Graduates? Let's be generous here. Fourteen surviving members of the class of 2001. Men and women ranging in ages from one hundred and nineteen, let us say, to a hundred and twenty-two. Many more little brothers and sisters-except by 2101, the annoying little brothers and sisters are going to be old, gray, slow, and cranky. And those crying babies, of course.
Now I'm sure that there are those-I hope their number is small, but I'm sure they're out there-who feel that I am being tasteless, casting gloom-even the pall of death-on what should be a joyous and wonderful day. Let me respond by reiterating the obvious: you knew I was a scorpion when you picked me up. And I do have a point to make. Because I do, I apologize not at all from pointing out the simple fact of your mortality on the day of your commencement.
Let us suppose the world has that coming century. Let's suppose no one decides it's time to start the next nuclear exchange in Pakistan or Jerusalem or Kansas City. Let us suppose you go forth from this happy place in good health and no one drops a safe on your head, hits you with a taxicab, or dumps you out of a hot-air balloon. Let us suppose cancer misses you, that you continue to run and work out and avoid Mickey D's and your heart grows stronger as the years get longer. Let's suppose you are fortunate enough to land the job you want and the friends you love (and who love you) and maybe even a life's mate that you can reach over and touch in the night when the hours spin long you've got the blues. Let's suppose you have those years, that fullness of time. I wish that for you. I do. I wish you the passion of this springtime, a long and productive summer, and a harvest ripe beyond your dreams come fall. I do. But you have to think about what I'm talking about. There's a Jackson Browne song, "The Pretender," that goes, "I'm aware of the time passin by, they say in the end it's the blink of an eye." They say, and it's true. Time is short.
That human life is brief when placed in time's wider perspective is something we all know. I am asking you to consider it on a more visceral level, that's all. Thinking of all those empty chairs a hundred years from now is frightening. Yet it also offers some valuable perspective.
What are you going to do, Vassar oh-one? Who will be the doctors, the lawyers, the writers, the painters, the executives, the politicians? Who's going to look around at age forty-five, surprised as hell to find himself or herself the head concierge at the Hotel Carlyle in New York and say, "How in the hell did I wind up here?"
What will you do? Well, I'll tell you one thing you're not going to do, and that's take it with you. I'm worth I don't exactly know how many millions of dollars-I'm still in the Third World compared to Bill Gates, but on the whole I'm doing okay-and a couple of years ago I found out what "you can't take it with you" means. I found out while I was lying in the ditch at the side of a country road, covered with mud and blood and with the tibia of my right leg poking out the side of my jeans like the branch of a tree taken down in a thunderstorm. I had a MasterCard in my wallet, but when you're lying in the ditch with broken glass in your hair, no one accepts MasterCard. If you find yourself in the ER with a serious infarct, or if the doctor tells you yeah, that lump you felt in your breast is a tumor, you can't wave your Diners Club at it and make it go away. My life, as it happened, was saved. The man who saved it was a volunteer EMT named Paul Fillebrown. He did the things that needed to be done at the scene, and then he drove me to the nearest hospital at a hundred and ten miles an hour. And while Paul Fillebrown may have an American Express Card, I doubt very much if it's a gold one or, God save us, the black one that offers double Frequent Flyer miles and special deals at Club Med.
We all know that life is ephemeral, but on that particular day and in the months that followed, I got a painful but extremely valuable look at life's simple backstage truths. We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed when we go out, but we're just as broke. Warren Buffet? Going to go out broke. Bill Gates? Going to go out broke. Tom Hanks? Going out broke. President Ferguson? Broke. Steve King? Broke. You guys? Broke. Not a crying dime. And how long in between? How long have you got to be in the chips? "I'm aware of the time passin by, they say in the end it's the blink of an eye." That's how long. Just the blink of an eye.
Let me give you some rough numbers, okay? The class of 2001, if everyone graduated on time, would consist of six hundred and twenty-four men and women. But things come up and probably a fewer number will actually get diplomas today. Say six hundred. Now let's take an average year's salary for a Vassar graduate-and when I say average, I mean knocked down to reflect the scuffling early years, when you won't be paid what you're really worth and won't care-if you're normal, in those early years you're going to care more about seeing U-2 or Wilco in concert. So we'll say forty-one grand. Now let's say each of you works forty years. Given those marvelous medical advances we were talking about, many of you may work longer, but let's be conservative. Forty years. Given these numbers-these very conservative numbers-this class as a group can expect to earn 984 million dollars during its active years in the American economy. These are still not Bill Gates numbers, but we need to remember that Vassar is only one of the many good schools graduating seniors today. Almost a billion dollars. And so what? I'm aware of the time passin by, they say in the end it's the blink of an eye, and the scary man said I was going to go out broke. The scary man actually says more than that. The scary man says all the money you will earn, all the credit you will swing like Tom Sawyer's dead cat on a string, all the stocks you will buy, all the mutual funds and precious metals you will trade-all of that is mostly smoke and mirrors. You will continue to put on your pants one leg at a time no matter how many T-bills you have or how many shares of General Electric in your portfolio. It's still going to be quarter-past getting late whether you tell the time on a Timex or a Rolex. No matter how large your bank account, your kids will still play their music too loud. No matter how many credit cards you have, sooner or later things will begin to go wrong with the only three things you have which you can really call your own: your body, your spirit , and your mind.
Yet for a short period-let's say forty years, but the merest blink in the larger course of things-you and your contemporaries will wield enormous power: the power of the economy, the power of the hugest military-industrial complex in the history of the world, the power of the American society you will create in your own image. That's your time, your moment. Don't miss it. I think my generation did, although I don't blame us too much; it's over in the blink of an eye and it's easy to miss.
Of all the power which will shortly come into your hands-gradually at first, but then with a speed that will take your breath away-the greatest is undoubtedly the power of compassion, the ability to give. We have enormous resources in this country-resources you yourselves will soon command-but they are only yours on loan. Only yours to give for a short while. You'll die broke. In the end, it's the blink of an eye. I came here to talk about charity, and I want you to think about it on a large scale.
Should you give away what you have? Of course you should. I want you to consider making your lives one long gift to others, and why not? All you have is on loan, anyway. All you want to get at the getting place, from the Maserati you may dream about to the retirement fund some broker will try to sell you on, none of that is real. All that lasts is what you pass on. The rest is smoke and mirrors.
Don't I think wealth-and some of you are going to finish up very wealthy, although you may not think it now-should be kept in the family? Some, yes-charity begins at home. Those of you who have been able to pay for the college educations of your sons and daughters-their Vassar educations-have done a wonderful thing. It's a great gift. If you're able to go on and give them a further start in life-a place in business, possibly help with a home-so much the better. Because charity begins at home. Because-up to a certain point, at least-we are all responsible for the lives we add to the world. But I think the most chilling thing a young man or woman can hear is "Some day all this will be yours." And of course, the runner-up: "I do it all for you." I think what a lot of new grads would like to hear is some version of, "You're on your own, good luck, call if you need help. And reverse the charges."
Here's another scary thing to think about before you leave here. Imagine a nice little back yard, surrounded by a board fence. Dad-a pleasant fellow, a little plump, wearing an apron that says YOU MAY KISS THE COOK-is tending the barbecue. Mom and the kids are setting the picnic table by the backyard pool: fried chicken, cole slaw, potato salad, a chocolate cake for dessert. And standing around that fence, looking in, are emaciated men and women, starving children. They are silent. They only watch. That family at the picnic is us, ladies and gentlemen; that back yard is America, and those hungry people on the other side of the fence, watching us sit down to eat, include far too much of the rest of the world. It's Asia and the subcontinent; it's countries in Central Europe where people live on the edge from one harvest to the next; it's South America, where they're burning down the rainforests to make room for housing developments and for grazing lands where next year's Big Macs are now being raised; most of all it's Africa, where AIDS is pandemic-not epidemic but pandemic-and starvation is a fact of life. Am I overstating? Well, America contains five per cent of the world's population and uses up seventy-five per cent of the world's resources, so you tell me. What we scrape down the kitchen disposal after Thanksgiving dinner for a family of eight would feed a Liberian village for a week, so you tell me. And the Woodstock Generation which set out to change the world has, by and large, subsided into a TV-driven existence of quiet and unobtrusive selfishness. While our national worth has tripled over the last quarter-century, the help we give the world's poor has sunk back to 1973 levels, so you tell me, you dare to tell me I'm overstating the case. In West Africa, the average lifespan is thirty-nine years. Infant mortality in the first year is fifteen per cent. It's not a pretty picture, but we have the power to help, the power to change. And why should we refuse? Because we're going to take it with us? Please .
We've elected an administration-I guess we elected them, we might as well say we did-that takes a dim view of charity as national policy. George W. Bush talks about "compassionate conservatism," an oxymoron right up there with jumbo shrimp and humane execution. What he's talking about has been Republican Party bedrock for a hundred years; it amounts to, "Don't give a man a fish, give him a fishing pole and teach him to fish." (This, of course, would be before idiotic conservation and environmental policies render the whole concept of "fish" irrelevant.) My own philosophy-partly formed as a young college graduate without a job waiting in a line to get donated commodities for the kids-is by all means give a man a pole and teach him to fish, but people learn better with full bellies. Why not give him a fish to get started?
Giving isn't about the receiver or the gift but the giver. It's for the giver. One doesn't open one's wallet to improve the world, although it's nice when that happens; one does it to improve one's self.. I give because it's the only concrete way I have of saying that I'm glad to be alive and that I can earn my daily bread doing what I love. I hope that you will be similarly grateful to be alive and that you will also be glad to do whatever it is you wind up doing—even that guy who's going to end up as the concierge at the Carlyle Hotel. Giving is a way of taking the focus off the money we make and putting it back where it belongs-on the lives we lead, the families we raise, the communities which nurture us.
I wish you the most pleasant day-both graduates and families. I wish you the joy of your fellowship, one with the other. This isn't a hundred years from now, after all; it's just today, and today we're fine. Today nobody's better than us. But when you go somewhere and sit down to break bread with your families, as most of you will, I want you to remember that image of the hungry and the dispossessed standing on the other side of the backyard fence. For the most part, they do not want to harm you, or take away your joy in this day; they only want what you want and we all want: food for themselves and their children, clothes for the body, a roof to keep the rain off at night. There are people who need these things right here in Poughkeepsie, as well as in India and Sierra Leone. Many of you know that; in April of this year, Vassar College held a panel discussion called "Faces of Homelessness."
Dutchess Outreach is one local organization dedicated to helping the hungry, the sick, and the homeless. They're at 70 South Hamilton Street, near a part of town which is very different from this green and pleasant campus, a part of Poughkeepsie where you might feel uncomfortable walking at night. Dutchess Outreach runs an Emergency Food Bank for those who are hungry and have nothing to eat. They run something called the Lunch Box, which serves midday meals six days a week. They have a Children's Clothes Closet for kids who need pants and coats and shoes. They provide nutrition, information, and emergency services for people with AIDS.
I don't as a rule talk about charitable giving; I actually do happen to believe that the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing—or if it does, it shouldn't discuss it. Today I'm going to make an exception to that rule. I intend to give $20,000 to Dutchess Outreach, in honor of the Class of 2001. I would take it kindly if those of you who are here today would match that amount. Each strictly according to his or her resources; nobody gets hurt. I don't ask that you do this because it will solve the problem of hunger and want in Poughkeepsie or Dutchess County, let alone in the whole world, but because you'll enjoy your own coming meal more fully knowing that you shared your joy and your good fortune in having been a part of this happy occasion. And don't let it be a one-shot. Let it be the beginning of a life's giving, not just of money but of time and spirit. It repays. Not least of all because it helps us remember that we may be going out broke, but right now we're doing okay. Right now we have the power to do great good for others and for ourselves. So I ask you to begin the next great phase of your life by giving, and to continue as you begin. I think you'll find in the end that you got far more than you ever had, and did more good than you ever dreamed.
Delivered May 20, 2001
If you have a little extra money, make a donation to:
Dutchess Outreach Inc.
29 N. Hamilton Street #202
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601