Literacy Award: Winterson honored

Literary+Award%3A+Jeanette+Winterson+addressed+those+in+attendance+at+the+award+ceremony.%0ARyan+Quinn+%2F+Photo+Editor
Back to Article
Back to Article

Literacy Award: Winterson honored

Literary Award: Jeanette Winterson addressed those in attendance at the award ceremony.
Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Literary Award: Jeanette Winterson addressed those in attendance at the award ceremony. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Literary Award: Jeanette Winterson addressed those in attendance at the award ceremony. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Literary Award: Jeanette Winterson addressed those in attendance at the award ceremony. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Literary Award: Jeanette Winterson addressed those in attendance at the award ceremony. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Literary Award: Jeanette Winterson addressed those in attendance at the award ceremony.
Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

On Tuesday, September 23, English author Jeanette Winterson was presented with the St. Louis Literary Award by the St. Louis University Library Associates, a group dedicated to the promotion of SLU’s libraries and their resources. In receiving the award, Winterson joined the ranks of many notable authors who have been awarded the honor before her, including W.H. Auden in 1970, Arthur Miller in 1980 and John Updike in 1987.

“The St. Louis Literary Award recognizes a living writer—with a substantial body of work, available in English—who has enriched our literary heritage by deepening our insight into the human condition and by expanding the scope of our compassion,” said Philip Boem, chair of the award selection committee.

For Winterson—whose first book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published in 1985, the award meant more than just recognition for her own body of work; it was a symbol of the power that reading and writing can have for anyone.

“Why do we read books?” Winterson asked after accepting the award. “Why do we want to be in that space? When people say to me ‘I don’t have time to read anymore,’ I think that should be a warning signal and not a fact of life. Something is wrong if we don’t have time to read because reading is entering into a unique thing, a private space, an unmediated space in a world where very little is private and unmediated.”

In Winterson’s own life, reading and writing have been personal. Although Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is fiction, she said that it does very much reflect her own personal experience growing up. Adopted and raised by a Pentecostal couple, Winterson was forbidden by her parents from reading anything but the Bible; they wanted her to become a missionary. So, when she first discovered the library and the idea that she could read behind her mother’s back, Winterson knew that she had found something truly profound.

“What we learn through fiction is to create … a place where we can go, a place where we can retreat and be ourselves but in the company of something which is energetic above all [and] imaginative,” she said.

Winterson sees great value in the imagination and the mind, and she believes that they are best fostered through the creative fodder of reading. Stories, she said, create something inside of you that cannot be taken away, even in the stormy, unpredictable—and often dangerous—ways of our world.

“I think that it’s very important to have things inside of you that you can depend upon,” she said. “For me, there’s stories … the whole imaginative world, which actually becomes like titanium and provides the shield and storage and safety [for whatever happens to you in the world].”

So much, Winterson said, can come from reading. Humans, she said, are contemplative beings; literature is at the core of who we are, but modern culture—hectic and rushed, scheduled and busy—often forgets this.

“In a world where every bit of the day is scheduled—you’re working [or] you’ve got family—there doesn’t seem to be any time. Is that really true of the human condition? I don’t think so,” she said.

And to deny the role of books and the imagination in our lives is, according to Winterson, a great travesty. People invented the introspective medium of literature, and to reject this, she said, is to rebuff a key component of humanity.

“I’d like to think that everyone would be an advocate for reading … and the power of books in our lives and not to be ashamed or embarrassed,” Winterson said. “If reading is a luxury, then being a human is a luxury.”