Toen ik Cynthia Voigt een brief aan een ander auteur te schrijven, kreeg ik prompt drie brieven. Voor #DSLetteren kozen we Voigt-schrijft-Voigt, maar de andere twee zijn te mooi om ongelezen te blijven. Hierbij dus Voigt schrijft Shakespeare & Voigt schrijft Rowling. Zomaar, voor niets. #freeread
Of course I celebrate you, with admiration and delight. Anybody who writes in the English language does (or they should), but that isn’t why I’m writing. I writing to say thank you for writing, for the high example of what language can be, can say and do, as it tells a story, presents character, paints scenery, imparts idea and elicits thinking, all at the same time.
The only question I have for you is: How did you do it? and I suspect that I can’t begin to even guess what the answer might be, because I can’t know how genius understands itself, or if it even wastes time trying to do so, which—frankly?—I doubt. Many of your plays and poems are unlike anything else in the literature, even works in the same genre, distinguished by richness of language and beauty of idea, or maybe it is beauty of language and richness of idea.
The pleasures of seeing the thing so excellently done encourages a useful and sensible humility in my about anything I write. And I suspect, from the timing of when I first ran into your work (seeing Hamlet on stage), your writing is what made me want to try putting my own words down on my own sheets of paper. Until that time, reading more than satisfied by appetite for language and story, but afterwards my hopes for myself were broader, higher, more ridiculous, give probability more unlikely, and always interesting to try to realize.
Given all of that, which is nowhere near the all of you, how can I not be grateful?
Yours most sincerely,
Well, JK Rowling,
I have been reading your Harvard graduation address and it is a nice piece of work, just what an American graduation address is supposed to be—advisory, hortatory, and amusing. In short, a fine talk for young people about to enter the first next stage of a life. More important for me, presently wondering if I am entering the last next stage (and hoping it is at least the penultimate), it has made me think. Not so much about graduation addresses, or even the misleading brouhaha around graduations, and not really about the possibilities for good an empathic imagination offers either. What I have been thinking about is failure. What I have been wondering is this: Once you have succeeded, are you any longer qualified to speak on that subject?
The standard counsel given by people who have moved through failure is to keep trying, the implied conclusion being that you will eventually succeed. Look at me I did it so can you: that’s the message, and it’s as false as the fairy tale promise of a golden future to the person presently choosing to perform, or flee, the heroic act. Or maybe it’s merely naïve? Whichever, it seems to me dishonest. Not all heroes emerge from the smoke and rubble of the collapsing tower and not many poor single mothers transform their failures into bestsellerdom, or even print. And yes, I do think this is also true of any form of the failure/success paradigm. Not every escaping slave made his or her way to freedom, the vast majority of refugees find themselves, at best, living within barbed wire, schools are full of adolescents whose unusual childhood talent, however nurtured by special encouragement, has not flourished: Such failure is the truth many people make their lives out of, and I do not see in what way they have been less determinedly hopeful (or hopefully determined) than you or I or anyone has been, during our pre- success eras.
Granted that there is no guarantee and in full recognition that good luck falls where it will (aside: the failure to recognize which fact is one of the most glaring of all the failures that characterize success), I suspect that it is only my present failures that I can speak of with honest understanding, and therefore out of which I can draw whatever counsel I have to offer anyone, but especially to the golden youth of America. Perhaps I should speak of success? But what wisdom is there to be gleaned from success? Even recognizing how long and broad is the scale of relative success (including as it does such disparate entries as character and money, fame and popularity, running as it does the gamut from small improvements to excellence) is there more than Look at me I did it so can you on offer?
Well, yes, I think so, because clearly it is possible to be a failure at being a success. Don’t you agree? And that might be something the people of this world, of any age but especially those who have had remarkably good luck could profit from, that is to say, considering how to go about being successful at success. You strike me as being pretty good at success, yourself, and your insights are likely to enable these young people to do even more than they might otherwise have done with the luck and talent they started out with.