National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches

Introduction of Arthur Miller Recipient of the National Book Foundation's Medal for DISTINGUISHED CONTRIBUTION TO AMERICAN LETTERS AWARD, 2001

Delivered by Steven Martin

Tonight we gather to honor Arthur Miller, exemplary man of letters, fearless novelist and short story writer, outspoken topical essayist, journalist and literary critic, down to earth, irreverent memoirist, versatile writer for radio, TV and screen, and as if all of that were not sufficient, our greatest living playwright.

Crossing the boundary of these genres is Arthur Miller's lifelong preoccupation with the condition of men and women joined together in common society. As he puts it, "Our membership in the ordinary human race".

"We are trying to save ourselves separately," Arthur Miller has cautioned, "and that is immoral". His belief in the responsibility and obligation of the artist as a social being -- he is well known for his decades long commitment to PEN -- is balanced by an unsparing commitment to art as truth telling, a quality as eternal as the ancient Greek tragedians he has always admired yet especially pertinent to these times.

"Literature and art," Miller says, "are not required to reassure when, in reality, there is no assurance, or to serve up clean and wholesome stories in all times and places." Whatever he has written over seven decades, Arthur Miller monitors the tempo of time. This vigilance makes his work so modern and continuously vital. He never gives up attempting to capture time's mysterious passage, whether it be the dark history of racial and religious repression, the dependable cycle of seasons allowing him to plow and plant his beloved Connecticut garden or the uneven memories of all too human characters in his evocative magical plays.

"The performer is his art," Miller writes, "whereas the writer can step away and leave it for the world to make of it what he will." Indeed, this brief introductory praise cannot possibly do justice to the essence of Arthur Miller's dramatic poetry so let's watch this excerpt from the 1984 production of "Death of a Salesman" starring Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich, courtesy of Castle Hill Productions.

Ladies and gentlemen, Arthur Miller.

Photo credit: Inge Morath; Magnun Photos, Inc.