It’s been 10 years and counting since a group of folks started National Writers Series around the kitchen table in our house on a cold January night.
And, 200 author events later, with 21,500 books (and counting) sold, and 75,000 tickets sold, and hundreds of hours of conversation under the lights of the City Opera House, and in the pixels of your Zoom screen, we’re here with a new season. At a reflection point.
What kind of stories have we been telling? Funny, sad, chilling, uplifting, page-turning, literary — it’s hard to say, exactly. To tell the truth, the nights onstage are one long sunset — filled with voices, laughter, surprise, a red sky alight. I‘m tempted to count down the greatest hits of the 200 shows, they come back in flashes — but I won’t. There are too many. And practically every night was a different kind of experience. I wish I had a dollar every time someone has said, “Tonight’s show was the best one yet.” I’d have at least $200.
That’s because of you. Our audiences. Our volunteers. Our donors. I’m not kidding. Our authors say you’re some of the best crowds they’ve bared their souls to. They mean it. They consistently say NWS is their favorite and best stop on a national book tour. They rarely see this kind of community support for programs like NWS’, striving to put a book in every hand on Main Street and the tools for success in the hearts of students.
NWS has long been committed to offering a diverse lineup of authors, genres, and voices. We’re here to give a place for the untold story to be told. I ask our guests what “larger” story they might be telling in their books. There’s never been a definitive answer, but I imagine it’s an über-story, the collective actions and desires of a nation moving in one direction, then in another. What do you think that story is? I’m serious.
I wish we were all together right now to answer that question — there’d be food and disagreement and laughter and more debate and perhaps more agreement.
NWS was formed to be a troop, a community, a neighborhood — collaborative, creative. Art is hard. It doesn’t offer answers. It asks questions.
You come to a book, a painting, a story, a movie, music, to be moved, confused, mystified. You come to give up control. And that’s hard to do, especially in an age when how we communicate is often routinized by algorithms.
The poet John Keats, at the age of 21 in 1817, wrote a letter to his brother that today we call the “Negative Capability” letter. Keats writes, “I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason ...”
He is describing the role of the artist and reader — to seek connections and oceans, not silos and deserts. A few years later, at age 25, Keats was dead of tuberculosis. If we truly understood, if we could feel the passing of time, like a wind past our faces, we wouldn’t waste another minute with nonsense. We’d read, and dream, and we’d talk about we’ve seen.
With your help, and together, that’s what we’re trying to do here.