It’s National Day on Writing and cyberspace is awash in declarations of “why I write.” Years ago, when I was a travel magazine editor, I found the words below, by Peruvian author Julio Ramón Ribeyro, in the pages of the airline publication. Ribeyro had just died, which explained the tribute being paid to him in the pages of this bilingual magazine on a Latin American route. The piece struck me because as a post-Boom writer, Ribeyro was not widely known outside of Peru and Latin America, and certainly remained mostly an unknown in the United States. But most importantly, I copied down Ribeyro’s words because he perfectly expressed my own feelings on writing. It’s been seventeen years since that flight and since then Ribeyro’s words have hovered over my desk in every home I’ve had. Some of his observations are likely universal, while others provoke actual memories: I was 10 when I realized the hum of the electric typewriter in my father’s study awakened the inspiration to pour my young freedom onto the blank page. When you’re young, you don’t get much freedom and I sat at that typewriter day after day and fell ever more in love with words.
Why do you write?
On Why I Write
To rid myself of certain obsessions and oppressive feelings.
To try to give form to the ideas and intuitions that run through my head and to understand them better.
To tell something that merits being told.
To create, without any other recourse than words, something that will be beautiful and lasting.
For the human need to be recognized, valued, admired, and perhaps, loved.
Because it is fun.
Because it is the only thing I know how to do more or less well.
Because it frees me from a certain inexplicable feeling of guilt.
Because I have become accustomed to doing it and because it is for me, more than a routine, a vice.
So that my experience of life, even though small, may not be lost.
Because the fact of being alone in front of my typewriter and the blank paper gives me the illusion of being absolutely free and powerful.
To carry on living after death, in the form of a book, like a voice someone may take the trouble to listen to.
-Julio Ramón Ribeyro