Colson Whitehead's advice during his acceptance speech in November for the National Book Award in fiction. I am in the mood to take Whitehead's advice as I just read thousands of words he strung together for The Underground Railroad, his award-winning book. That's trust, isn't it? To be willing to give over your time and imagination for someone else's version of the world? That's what all writers hope readers will do. And if we can trust the writer with this, we can also trust that he or she will give us good advice. Maybe not. Ayn Rand was a writer and she dispensed lousy advice. I read her books as a young, impressionable reader. Good people write books. Bad people write books and give bad advice. What is one to do?
Be kind of everybody. Keep reading the good stuff. Keep writing. Make art. Speak truth to power.
For some context, here is a longer quote from Whitehead's NBA speech (from Vulture):
This time last year I was finishing up the book and was like, Don't mess up the last 20 pages, Colson. Every day I'm like, Only 19 pages to go, don't mess it up, Colson. And you never know what's going to happen in a year. And now the book is out and I would never think I would be standing here. And who knows where we're gonna be a year from now. We're sort of happy in here, outside is the blasted hellhole wasteland of Trumpland which we're going to inhabit. But who knows what's going to happen a year from now. And because I'm still promoting the book, people have been like, "Do you have any words about the election?" And I'm like, "Not really" — I'm sort of stunned. And I hit upon something that was making me feel better, and I guess it was, I think, hopefully applicable to other folks: Be kind to everybody, make art, and fight the power. That seemed like a good formula for me, anyway. So B, M, F, and if you have trouble remembering that, a good mnemonic device to tell yourself is, They can't break me because I'm a Bad Mother Fucker. Thank you.