National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches

Donald Barthelme, Winner of the 1972 CHILDREN'S LITERATURE AWARD

Writing for children, like talking to them, is full of mysteries. I have a child, a six-year-old, and I assure you that I approach her with a copy of Mr. Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity held firmly in my right hand. If I ask her which of two types of cereal she prefers for breakfast, I invariably find upon presenting the bowl that I have misread my instructions -- that it was the other kind she wanted. In the same way it is quite conceivable to me that I may have written the wrong book -- some other book was what was wanted. One does the best one can. I must point out that television has affected the situation enormously. My pictures don't move. What's wrong with them? I went into this with Michael di Capua, my editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, who incidentally improved the book out of all recognition, and he told me sadly that no, he couldn't make the pictures move. I asked my child once what her mother was doing, at a particular moment, and she replied that mother was "watching a book." The difficulty is to manage a book worth watching. The problem, as I say, is full of mysteries, but mysteries are not to be avoided. Rather they are a locus of hope, they enrich and complicate. That is why we have them. That is perhaps one of the reasons why we have children.