Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929 – March 27, 2012)

July 3, 1997 

Jane Alexander 
The National Endowment for the Arts
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue 
Washington, DC 20506 

 Dear Jane Alexander,

I just spoke with a young man from your office, who informed me that I had been chosen to be one of twelve recipients of the National Medal for the Arts at a ceremony at the White House in the fall. I told him at once that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. I want to clarify to you what I meant by my refusal. 

Anyone familiar with my work from the early Sixties on knows that I believe in art’s social presence—as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright.

In my lifetime I have seen the space for the arts opened by movements for social justice, the power of art to break despair. Over the past two decades I have witnessed the increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice in our country. 

There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored. 

I know you have been engaged in a serious and disheartening struggle to save government funding for the arts, against those whose fear and suspicion of art is nakedly repressive. In the end, I don’t think we can separate art from overall human dignity and hope. My concern for my country is inextricable from my concerns as an artist. I could not participate in a ritual which would feel so hypocritical to me. 

 Adrienne Rich 
 cc: President Clinton

Ten rules for writing fiction

I will be spending part of my Easter-holiday traveling by planes & trains. And for these occasions I have downloaded a few audiobooks. I’m especially looking forward to AL Kennedy’s The Blue Book

As I have never read any of her work before, I can yet not tell you anything noteworthy of her way of writing, but what I can share is: AL Kennedy’s ten rules for writing fiction

AL Kennedy

1 Have humility. Older/more ­experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. ­Consider what they say. However, don’t automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.

2 Have more humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.

3 Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact.

4 Defend your work. Organisations, institutions and individuals will often think they know best about your work – especially if they are paying you. When you genuinely believe their decisions would damage your work – walk away. Run away. The money doesn’t matter that much.

5 Defend yourself. Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative.

6 Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.

7 Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won’t need to take notes.

8 Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones ­until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you’ll get is silence.

9 Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.

10 Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on.

Thank You Virginia!

Virginia Woolf died this day, on 28 March, in 1941 – when she drowned herself in the River Ouse near her home in Sussex, by putting rocks in her coat pockets. Her body was found later in April and she was then cremated, her ashes spread under two elms at Monks’ House. She had left two similar suicide notes, one possibly written a few days earlier before an unsuccessful attempt. The one addressed to Leonard read in part;

Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again….And I shan’t recover this time…..I am doing what seems the best thing to do….I can’t fight any longer….Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer….I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.

Virginia and Vita at Monk’s House in 1933 (photographed by Leonard Woolf)

Through letters and diaries Virginia Woolf showed us bits and pieces of her complicated and stressful mental life. But she also told us about experiences of great happiness, love and joy. Darkness and light are both strong forces in her work, the interplay between the two gives her writing an unsurpassed depth and strength.

Today is a sad day, I really wish she could have known how much she has come to mean for so many of us!

There but for the

Today I’m reading Ali Smith’s There but for the, that is to say: I’m reading På stedet mil – which is what the Norwegian translation of the novel is called.

The title seems strange to me, but it might just be so because its not my mother tongue.

  • Have you read it?
  • Any thoughts on the title?

I have yet to finish this book, but I do like Smith’s earlier work, both short-stories and novels, a lot!

The Voyage Out

Inspired by Caroline’s beautiful review I’ve started reading Virginia Woolf’s first published novel: The Voyage Out (1915).

Throughout The Voyage Out, writes Suzanne Raitt in The Cambridge Companion, Rachel (the heroine of the story) fights, just like Virginia Woolf herself, to develop a voice to which people will listen:

Each of the ladies, being after the fashion of their sex, highly trained in promoting men’s talk without listening to it, could think—about the education of children, about the use of fog sirens in an opera—without betraying herself. Only it struck Helen that Rachel was perhaps too still for a hostess, and that she might have done something with her hands.

“Perhaps—?” she said at length, upon which they rose and left, vaguely to the surprise of the gentlemen, who had either thought them attentive or had forgotten their presence.

Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (1915) chp. 1

Its strange, weird actually, but I recognize this situation so very well. I still meet it when I, every now and then, spend time with men that are older than myself. How they can talk and talk and talk without paying any attention to the fact that they are in the company of smart(er) and (more) interesting women – with important stories to tell …

Is it still more difficult for a woman than a man to find her own voice?

Ten rules for writing fiction

… I love to read, but what I really need just now, in the middle of life, is to become a better writer

A visit to 101 Books made me aware of this great list of RULES for writing fiction. Heres Anne Enright’s contribution:

1 The first 12 years are the worst.

2 The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.

3 Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

4 Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.

5 Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity.

6 Try to be accurate about stuff.

7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

8 You can also do all that with whiskey.

9 Have fun.

10 Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.

I love rule no. 1 – about the first 12 years! Marvelous! I also like her choice of the concept necessity instead of truth in no. 5. Talking about truth is very difficult, but I think that both writer and reader can feel it with body & brain when a text is founded on necessity.

I must admit never to have read any of Anne Enright’s books – have you?


To tell you the truth: I would never had finished reading Monica Ali’s Untold Story had it not been my job to do so. I cannot imagine why Ali, a serious, Booker nominated novelist, ended up writing this nonsense.

My review of the book will be written & published in Norwegian (I don’t think you will be sad not to read it).

I spent my day in the house by the sea. Beautiful, isn’t it?