Given in 2007
Of all the contests we hold in America – American Idol, Miss America, National Book Awards, Soapbox Derby, Survivor, Great Race, Best Bagel, the World Series, the Indy 500, on and on – do other countries to this? What is wrong with us? Let me start again.
The one contest we have never have to hold in America, is MOST BELOVED PLAYWRIGHT. And the reason for that, is America’s Most Beloved Playwright has always been, at least in our lifetime, Mr. Horton Foote. But why do we love him? Why do we not just admire him, hold him in awe, wish we could write half as well as he has for half as long, credit him with the most moving movies we’ve seen, and plays so natural they seem never to have been written at all. Why don’t we all just quit and let Horton say what life was like in our time. What does he know that we don’t, about life, about writing, about living? Will he tell us in his acceptance speech? Why do we love this man and his work?
Is it because he has characters say things like – I don’t trust happiness? Is it because he has written his plays without seeming to care whether they were presented or not, and so has had a “second act” in his life, in which he could keep writing and teaching, even flying back to California after tonight, a new move in pre-production? Do we love him because he says what he really wanted was to be a poet? Doesn’t he know he already is a poet?
This man puts me in nothing short of a state of wonder. What accounts for Horton’s unfailing ability to make us care for the people he writes about? Do we all secretly long to live in one of his small-towns, or do we just wish somebody knew us as well as Horton knows people, like Rosa Lee and Mac in Tender Mercies, or the wondrous Carrie Watts in Trip to Bountiful. Do we wish he would take one of our novels and turn it into a luminous movie no one will ever forget, as he did with To Kill A Mockingbird and Tomorrow? Do we wish Horton was in our family so we could just see him more? Well. That’s what I wish. But then I’m a fellow southerner so I’m allowed to wish things like that.
Horton Foote has known what he was here to do, from the moment he got the “call to write,” as he refers to it. He has always known which characters to bring to life, and which stories to tell. He has even known how to tell other people’s stories, among them Faulkner, and Steinbeck and you know, lesser mortals like that. He has won two Oscars, for To Kill a Mockingbird, and for Tender Mercies , the Pulitzer Prize for the Man from Atlanta, and an Emmy for his adaptation of Faulkner’s Old Man. He wrote for Playhouse 90. He has won the Inge Award, the Gold Medal for Drama from the Academy of Arts and Letters, the Writers Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and the PEN Center’s Master Dramatist Award. And now it is our turn to say what he has meant to us, his fellow playwrights.
Well for starters, Horton Foote has proven that as a playwright you don’t have to get old, get grumpy and quit writing. He is the living embodiment of the truth of “write what you know.” And what does he know? Well, here it is in his own words. “ I believe very deeply in the human spirit, and I have a sense of awe about it. I look around and ask, What makes the difference? What is it? I’ve known people the world has thrown everything at – to discourage them, to kill them, to break their spirit. And yet something about them retains a dignity. They face life and they don’t ask quarters.”
Horton Foote, your work has not only shown us how your characters live, it has shown us how we ourselves should live. Real simple. We should face life and not ask for quarters. We should see what is in front of us, write the best we can for as long as we are able, keep our families around us, and our allies by our sides, as you have done. To have provided us with this example, that is your gift. To have the opportunity to cherish you, that is ours. For the overwhelming beauty of your writing, for the unmatched power of your example as a writer and a man, it is with great love and gratitude that the Dramatists Guild awards you it’s 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award.