Commencement Speech, Stonecoast July 2013

Posted By Alex Giardino / July, 22, 2013 / 0 comments

Writers, hello!

Thank you for inviting me to speak.

What I have to say to you this evening is not a speech. It is an appeal.

 

You have a vital role to play in the future of this planet.

 

The pending climate catastrophe is dire. Indeed “change” hardly seems fitting for what is actually occurring. You are already well aware of the crisis upon us, but I will remind you that the New York Times reported on May 10th of this year, that “the level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, … reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years.” “Scientific instruments,” the article continued, “showed that the gas had reached an average daily level above 400 parts per million.”

 

We have tipped.

 

The gravity of what is happening is hard to grasp, even for us well-informed and concerned people.

 

The time has come for massive collective action. And we writers have a central role to play in that.

 

You are, each of you, by your very artistic natures, provocateurs and dreamers. You know what I mean: when you write, you transform your visions, your dreams, into words intended to provoke something deep inside your readers. Your writing–your poems, your essays, your short stories, your novels–can and will have an impact.

 

You know why.

Because art transforms.

 

Two recent studies prove what you have experienced in your own art.

One: a recent study in Britain showed how the part of our brains that lights up when we are in love also lights up when we look at beautiful works of art.

And two: a recent study at the University of Toronto found that reading literary fiction helps people embrace ambiguous ideas and avoid snap judgments. Readers of literary fiction express more comfort with disorder and uncertainty. These are attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity. Exposure to literature also offers a way for people to become more likely to open their minds.

 

My appeal is simply this: you have to keep writing.

 

You must simply keep writing, and keep sharing your work with anyone and everyone who will read it. With Everyone.

 

We need you to keep shaping minds that are sophisticated and able to juggle complexity and conflict and contradiction.

 

The world more than ever needs minds that are on fire in love.

 

Your writing may fire up the heart and mind of a woman who is going to invent a solution to plastic bag pollution, or a man who is going to figure out how to build better levies. You may inspire the men and women who go off to fight against the oil industry. You may challenge and provoke the minds of those people who make it their life’s work to protect sea turtles, butterflies, and oak trees. Your words will inspire, and yes, provoke, other people’s dreams, which become real ways to face the reality of what is happening on our planet.

 

In this way, I say that seven billion people depend on you to keep writing and keep putting your work out in the world.

 

Some of you may know that my literary hero is Pablo Neruda, that great humanist poet who so deeply loved the natural world that he filled volumes of poems with tributes to its wonders. If he were alive today, I have no doubt that he would be leading the charge to protect the planet by challenging his vast readership to act, to defend, to imagine a better world. The small pouches being passed around by my son right now contain grains of sand I gathered from the beach at Isla Negra, which is Neruda’s beloved home on the Chilean coast. Please accept this sand in his honor. I am giving it to you as a reminder of what I believe is your highest calling as a writer: to provoke the imaginations of the world in the service of our beautiful and endangered planet.

 

We are all in this together, and we, each of us, must do our part. Your part, and mine, is our writing.

And so to my fellow fiction writers, to Andy and Karla and Drew and Heather: keep writing.

And to the poets, keep writing.

And to the creative nonfiction folks, keep writing.

And to the pop fiction folks: keep writing.

 

Every one of you: Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.

Thank you.

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