Over the last three decades an extraordinary roster of authors has delivered keynotes at the annual Whiting Awards ceremony, sharing stories both rueful and celebratory of their early creative life and offering advice to emerging writers. Below you’ll find some of our favorites.

Saul Bellow 1985
People consume a diet of novelty that would have driven their ancestors into the madhouse.
Alfred Kazin 1986

This keynote speech is currently unavailable.

Eudora Welty 1987

Pleasure is not another word for a book’s content. Pleasure, whatever its source, has to be made. It comes from the act itself of creating.

Galway Kinnell 1988

To lay words in true and beautiful order takes a heightened intensity that will allow one to break through inhibitions.

Elizabeth Hardwick 1989

Writing, this loathsome, sedentary work, is, of course, violently active. 

Frederick Buechner 1990

I think writers can, for better or worse, do things to their audience that other kinds of artists for the most part can’t.

Derek Walcott 1991

There are so many who applaud you without envy, not for who you appear to become by this recognition, but for a more lasting investment.

Ralph Ellison 1992

Underneath your efforts you’re helping this country discover a fuller sense of itself as it goes about making its founders’ dream a reality. 


Robert Giroux 1993

Great books are often ahead of their time.  The trick is how to keep them—and their authors—afloat until the times catch up.


Frank Conroy 1994

What we do, is work.  What we do, is write.  Whatever the distractions, we stick to it, come what may.  

Frances FitzGerald 1995

These awards are among the few that are large enough to give the gift of time as writers measure it, which is in very large chunks.

Ted Solotaroff 1996

The literary community lives on, most importantly of all, in the personal and enabling relationships between and among writers.

Robert Pinsky 1997

This keynote speech is currently unavailable.

Seamus Heaney 1998

No commendation quite substitutes for the commendation of the respected practitioner. That laying on of the hands marks the soul for the better.

Lucille Clifton 1999

So one has to have courage to do this thing that we have committed ourselves to doing.  It is not about being celebrated writers.  It is about writing.

Robert Phillips 2000

Painters, musicians, dancers, and actors, are all encouraged to study all along their careers.  There is no master class in America for the writer.

Stanley Kunitz 2001

The mind lives by its contradictions, and the poetic imagination must oppose any form of oppression, including oppression of the mind by a single idea.

William Styron 2002

It is difficult, if not impossible, for a writer in his early 20s to be entirely original, to acquire that voice, but I had to make the attempt.

John Guare 2003

In Shakespeare’s day, seeing emotions carried to the extreme helped audiences find the proper limits for their own lives.

Edna O'Brien 2004

Art is useless against history, but a great consolation to the individual. And which of us would want to forfeit that great, private consolation?

Grace Paley 2005

You're a lucky girl, you know, that these books are in the living room, more on the table than on the shelf like in some people's houses.

Robert Stone 2006

Language is language, and life is life. And this constant game of hide-and-seek that we play continues to be a very mysterious process.

Marilynne Robinson 2007

This keynote speech is currently unavailable.

Barry Lopez 2008

Each of you has a vision. We hope you all will nurture and protect that vision, and remember that we, too, have dreams and a fate when we read you.

Margaret Atwood 2009

It’s not a profession, this track you’re on. It’s a vocation – a calling. There’s no pension plan, there are no guarantees, and there’s no magic potion.

Peter Matthiessen 2010

This keynote speech is currently unavailable.

Mark Doty 2011

You keep the challenges new, you solve the problems a new way, you do what you don’t know how to do yet, and you’ll stay awake in your spirit.

Jeffrey Eugenides 2012

There’s something about writing that demands a leave-taking, an abandonment of the world, paradoxically, in order to see it clearly.

Tony Kushner 2013

We write to negotiate our own relationships with momentariness and permanence, to speak with the dead, to bring them back to life, or try to.

Andrew Solomon 2015

Experience poses the questions we are asked to live, and our writing is the mere shadow of an answer.

Elizabeth Alexander 2016

I might like to think that my life is one book lined up tidily next to another; so speaks literary ambition. But really, it is a jagged path.

Siddhartha Mukherjee 2017

Beauty, in all its myriad forms, can only be created in opposition to numbness. 

Toni Morrison 2018

This keynote speech is currently unavailable.

Adam Johnson 2019

This keynote speech is currently unavailable.

Sarah Ruhl 2020

In books are ideas that can spread, but without contagion. The libraries may be closed but the books are all open.

Tracy K. Smith 2021

Your work coaxes something awake in us, and awake is how the world needs us to be.

Maggie Nelson 2022

This keynote speech is currently unavailable.

Ayad Akhtar 2023

Know that in the matter of making art it is often right to get it wrong, and on careful reconsideration, to get it wrong again.