For the most part, we get our insights about authors in print. The writer presents a story or an opinion, support it with details or arguments, and leaves again when we close the book’s cover. But occasionally, thanks to an award ceremony or a graduation speech, we get to see another side of an author. We get to see what they would tell us if they spoke directly, and we get to better understand their views on life, morality, art, and their books.
In these eight speeches, some of the greatest authors from history and today share their insights and their opinions. From Elizabeth Gilbert to David Foster Wallace, these are our favorite author speeches!
Ray Bradbury’s Columbia College commencement speech
Ray Bradbury wasn’t well enough to fulfill his agreement to speak in person at Columbia College in Chicago. The 88-year-old author was too ill to leave California, but he insisted on speaking to graduates anyway. In a video address, the aging author delivered a moving speech that touched on his childhood and the importance of love.
Neil Gaiman’s University of the Arts commencement speech
Neil Gaiman’s speech is the gold standard for author commencement speeches. It went viral and has even spawned a book version. Gaiman’s simple commandment to the new arts graduates is to “make good art,” but his thoughts on what that means are what makes the speech so tremendously important.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the mega-hit Eat, Pray, Love, and her TED Talk has all of the humor, import, and insight that her book did. Gilbert discusses geniuses and artists, and asks what kind of genius we might each have inside.
Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech
Ernest Hemingway didn’t make it to Stockholm to claim his prize, so his speech was read by the United States’ ambassador to Sweden. Hemingway did read his own speech once, though: he recited it on the radio in Cuba. This recording is from that broadcast.
J.K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has inspired children all around the globe – including plenty of people in the crowd of Harvard graduates that heard this speech first-hand. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech is frank about luck and fate, but it’s ultimately as uplifting and moving as you’d expect from J.K. Rowling.
George Saunder’s 2013 Syracuse University commencement speech
Saunder’s 2013 commencement speech at Syracuse University went viral, and with good reason. “Be kind,” is Saunder’s simple message, but his brilliance shines through in the way in which he presents it. Like Gaiman’s speech on art, this speech was quickly turned into a book: the wonderful little volume Congratulations, By the Way.
Mark Twain’s Seventieth Birthday Speech
Mark Twain celebrated his seventieth birthday at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City. The huge party included more than 170 guests, including the host, the editor of Harper’s. More than a dozen speeches and formal toasts were given, but the author’s, of course, stood out. Funny, moving, and beautiful written, it’s one of the greatest author speeches of all time.
David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College commencement speech (the “This is Water” speech)
In 2005, David Foster Wallace’s peers were openly questioning the value of a liberal arts education. Wallace took his Kenyon College commencement speech as a chance to respond, and the result was this important speech on the importance of a higher education in the liberal arts. This was the only public talk that Wallace ever gave on his personal views. It was good enough to be immortalized in print.