Paul Beatty – NYFA Hall of Fame Benefit 2018

I remember the very first time I taught
here, which was a while ago. I remember saying, I think it was the first words out of my mouth, which was “I hate writing.” Which is…pretty true. There’s a
reason why I do it. I don’t know if it’s love is the right word, but it’s there’s
just like a deep satisfaction that that writing gives me. When I’ve managed to
render these kind of amorphous thoughts and feelings, emotions you know, all the
simultaneity that’s happening at once. When I managed to get that in a sentence. It just…can feel good sometimes. As a poet, you know I had to read a lot
in front of other people. I was having a really hard time with the audience thing,
and it started to affect the way I wrote, or the way I thought about what I
was doing. And I remember writing a poem… I don’t remember what poem it was…and in my head…you know I went “Oh they’re gonna really like that!” and I went “Whoaa
that’s not why I do this” you know…but I realized that that kind of instant
feedback was something I was really uncomfortable with. And that’s not why
I started writing fiction necessarily, but it was a part of it that I just
felt more public as a poet and it made me very uncomfortable. I got the NYFA grant in ’93. Oh man, it meant a lot. It was an affirmation that I’m trying to do things that are different, and maybe not accessible for different reasons, you
know, but still that you know the fact that somebody is trying to encourage me,
trying to, you know, not feed me literally, but kind of feed my drive…it was very important. You know, it’s just nice to get some kind of recognition, and the support was huge. I got the NYFA [fellowship], and it was one of those things that allowed me to work a little bit less, and I just would go
to the movies…all these old New York theaters that no longer exist, you know,
Theatre 80, Thalia… and for me that was so formative, you know. This allowed me to just indulge me, just indulge myself in my work, you know, it just helped. Just
it’s a little star out there you can kind of run towards that star. It’s just
nice to know that somebody’s supporting the arts. And I think it’s pretty self-evident, you know, why this stuff is important.

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