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William Faulkner’s
Nobel Prize Speech

Stockholm, December 10, 1950

William Faulkner officially earned the Nobel Prize in Literature for the year 1949, but he did not receive it until the following year, because the Nobel Prize committee could not reach a consensus in 1949. Hence, two Nobel prizes were awarded in 1950, for the prior year and for the present one. The speech Faulkner delivered was not immediately intelligible to his listeners, both because of Faulkner’s southern dialect and because the microphone was too distant from his mouth, but when it was printed in newspapers the following day, it was immediately hailed as one of the most significant addresses ever delivered at a Nobel ceremony.

The text below is reprinted from Essays, Speeches, and Public Letters, which differs from the speech he actually delivered at the cermony. To hear a studio recording of Faulkner reading the (revised) speech, please visit this page. Also worth visiting is this page on the 1949 literature award from the Nobel Foundation, which features an audio recording of his live presentation of the speech, which unfortunately ends before the conclusion of the speech.. (This is apparently the same audio used for the first video featured below.)

Nobel Prize Videos

These videos were posted to YouTube. The first has only the still photo of Faulkner accepting the award, but it does include nearly three minutes of audio of Faulkner delivering the speech at the ceremony. The second video is a documentary featuring scenes from the ceremony, but not the speech itself. (It also happens to be in Swedish.) Click here for more information about the documentary (and another link to the video.)

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work — a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

For more information about Faulkner’s Nobel Prize in Literature, check out Trivia.


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How to cite this page (MLA style):

Faulkner, William. Nobel Prize Speech. 10 Dec. 1950. Rpt. on William Faulkner on the Web.

This page was last modified on Monday, June 30, 2008, at 11:19 PM CDT.
Copyright © 1995 – 2008 by John B. Padgett.
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