Presenter of the National Book Awards

National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches

Thomas Williams, Winner of the 1975 FICTION AWARD for THE HAIR OF HAROLD ROUX

If the word is sacred and it is -- what else is?), fiction occupies the inner temple. It alone may reveal a universe; all other voices merely inform.

Living, round, vulnerable characters should move and breathe within the fictional universe. I don't care if I like the writer's voice or not. If he is on the edge of power such affection is irrelevant. The writer at the very edge if his power hasn't time to be charming, to be sad, to be clever. He is creating people who are all of those things, people who are not classified, utilized, disposable counters in a game of allegory, political comments, social criticisms, theology, or existential puzzles.

All of these, of course, may haunt the people of that universe, just as the shape of his own creation haunts the writer of fiction. But if his people are stillborn, postures stuffed with intellectual clockwork, the work is minor.

I think you will recognize works that are not minor. They may be ragged and imperfect -- by their nature perhaps they have to be. You will recognize them when you find them because they will engage all of you and you will never, in their grip, smirk with self-satisfaction. You will never figure them out. They approach the unforgivable, which is to make you feel what you don't want to feel. And when this happens, they have already changed your life.

So much for my avuncular admonition to those who would try to write and read. But we all go on, saying what happens next, trying for that power which is fiction's property.