This is the commencement address from my graduation at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. It’s given by the brilliant and articulate, Martine Leavitt, and it captures the dedication, heart, and love it takes to write. A large portion of the address relates to going to VCFA in particular, but the larger themes will resonate with any writer.
Here’s a teaser:
“… These are the best reasons to do anything in life. People who say things like this are the kind of people who change the world. Who prevent the world from ending. Or at least they can change the inner world of a reader and that is a sacred power.” - Martine Leavitt
I highly suggest taking some time to watch this video:
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Martine Leavitt is an American-Canadian author of many books for young adults, including My Book of Life by Angel, Tom Finder, and Heck Superhero. Her novel Keturah and Lord Death was a National Book Award finalist in 2006. She is a faculty member at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and the mother of seven children.
“The healing power of art is not a rhetorical fantasy. Fighting to keep language, language became my sanity and my strength. It still is, and I know of no pain that art cannot assuage. For some, music, for some, pictures, for me, primarily, poetry, whether found in poems or in prose, cuts through the noise and the hurt, opens the wound to clean it, and then gradually teaches it to heal itself. Wounds need to be taught to heal themselves.” - Jeanette Winterson (from the essay Art & Life).
Jeanette Winterson is the author of many novels, including Art & Lies, The Powerbook, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and many more. The above quote comes from her book of essays Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery.
“I want hard stories, I demand them from myself. Hard stories are worth the difficulty. It seems to me the only way I have forgiven anything, understood anything, is through that process of opening up to my own terror and pain and reexamining it, re-creating it in the story, and making it something different, making it meaningful – even if the meaning is only in the act of the telling.” – Dorothy Allison
Dorothy Allison is the author of the semi-autobiographical book Bastard Out of Carolina which was a National Book Award finalist. She writes novels, short stories, and screenplays, and has won several literary awards.
Eudora Welty is the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist of The Optimist’s Daughter. She has won numerous other awards including the National Book Award, a National Medal for the Arts, and the O. Henry Award. She has written six novels and numerous short story collections.
“The great Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa said that to be an artist means never to avert your eyes. And that’s the hardest thing, because we want to flinch. The artist must go into the white hot center of himself, and our impulse when we get there is to look away and avert our eyes.” - Robert Olen Butler
Robert Olen Butler is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the short story collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. He has written many novels and short story collections, as well as the craft book From Where You Dream.