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The Nobel Prize in Literature 1978
Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Banquet Speech

Isaac Bashevis Singer's speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1978

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

People ask me often, 'Why do you write in a dying language?' And I want to explain it in a few words.

Firstly, I like to write ghost stories and nothing fits a ghost better than a dying language. The deader the language the more alive is the ghost. Ghosts love Yiddish and as far as I know, they all speak it.

Secondly, not only do I believe in ghosts, but also in resurrection. I am sure that millions of Yiddish speaking corpses will rise from their graves one day and their first question will be: "Is there any new Yiddish book to read?" For them Yiddish will not be dead.

Thirdly, for 2000 years Hebrew was considered a dead language. Suddenly it became strangely alive. What happened to Hebrew may also happen to Yiddish one day, (although I haven't the slightest idea how this miracle can take place.)

There is still a fourth minor reason for not forsaking Yiddish and this is: Yiddish may be a dying language but it is the only language I know well. Yiddish is my mother language and a mother is never really dead.

Ladies and Gentlemen: There are five hundred reasons why I began to write for children, but to save time I will mention only ten of them. Number 1) Children read books, not reviews. They don't give a hoot about the critics. Number 2) Children don't read to find their identity. Number 3) They don't read to free themselves of guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion, or to get rid of alienation. Number 4) They have no use for psychology. Number 5) They detest sociology. Number 6) They don't try to understand Kafka or Finnegans Wake. Number 7) They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff. Number 8) They love interesting stories, not commentary, guides, or footnotes. Number 9) When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority. Number 10) They don't expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity. Young as they are, they know that it is not in his power. Only the adults have such childish illusions.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1978, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1979

 

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1978
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