Tony Horwitz and Geraldine Brooks
2012 MV Medal Winners (from left to right): Hugh Knipmeyer, Tony Horwitz, Geraldine Brooks, James and Deborah Athearn.
Introduced by Sheldon Hackney
This will be a little unusual I suppose but you will understand why as I go through this. Let me start with Tony, he was born in Washington DC and he actually came to the Vineyard as a boy for vacations, he attended nearby Brown University for which I have forgiven him. He did that and then attended Grad School at the Columbia University Grad School for journalism where he met Geraldine Brooks and after some time they were married. Tony began his professional life as a reporter; he spent at least a decade over sea reporting for the Wall Street Journal. He was also a staff writer for the New Yorker; I think that is quite a compliment for his writing ability. Then he became Mr. Full-Time Writer, writing books. Four of his books were best sellers, that's really quite good. Before that he won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting. Now he lives on the Vineyard with Geraldine of course and with their two sons Nathaniel and Bizu. It's just, they first lived near us, that makes them really great, on Main Street in Vineyard Haven but their boys convinced them they need more room, so now they live up island and have lots of room so it's great to have him. You may see, seated next to him a charming lady, Geraldine Brooks, who was born and raised in Sydney, Australia and went to school at Bethlehem College at the University of Sydney. Then she came to New York and got her Masters degree at the Columbia University School of Journalism and that of course is where they met. They eventually got married, after doing a lot of reporting overseas, Geraldine as well, she reported war, mostly for the Wall Street Journal, she got prizes for her reporting. Then wrote some books, some non-fiction books, which were best sellers, then she began writing novels, March won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 and Caleb's Crossing of which we just had reference was published last year and it is based on the story of the first American Indian to attend Harvard University and graduate from Harvard University and he, of course, was a Wampanoag so if you haven't read Caleb's Crossing yet, go, hurry, it's there. But Geraldine and Tony, would you come up?
Thank you for that and we agreed on the way over that Geraldine would speak for the two of us but I'll just say one observation. This is obviously a wonderful organization because it has the swiftest and least contentious annual meeting I've ever seen. I'm used to the Tisbury town meetings, which typically go four hours and have a lot more no's compared to tonight. Here you go, thank you.
Thank you in so many ways for this award and for the work of the Museum. I love the past and most of the places we've lived I've always thought of the thread that connects the here and now to the then and there as being a very frail and fragile thing. When we moved to the Vineyard it didn't seem that way suddenly. I was reminded of Faulkner's remark that the past is not even past because we walk with the past every day here. We rub shoulders with families such as the Athearn's whose fathers were here when the first English colonists moved to this Island in 1641, which is a remarkable thing. We have neighbors who were here for millennia before that, like June Manning, we find names among the Wampanoag, such as Coombs, that were carried in civilization by the Hiacoomes family, one of the first Native Americans to attend Harvard. So suddenly the thread doesn't seem so thin at all but it does seem fragile because history is always under attack by the forces that want to tear down and redo and undo and destroy and it think that the work of the Museum is good in connecting people to that past and reminding them that we rely on this connection to know who we were because we can't know who we are if we don't know who we were and I think that having historians looking over our shoulder as neighbors is another thing that can connect us, and having the wonderful stewardship with the Museum where I spent many snowy days, going through shoe boxes of documents and even in the digital world, but I can tell you that if writing historical fiction and writing history is, as Jim said, a kind of time travel, then we need museums as our time machines. They are our magical deloreans or our compasses or whatever apparatus it is that transports you back into the past and for me they do it to the power of those objects because through an object or a document you can be connected to the hands that held that thing, the hands that held the dipper that they used to get the oil out of the tri-pots or the hand that used a quill pen or an old rusty knit pen and wrote the cepial words with great difficulty and struggle and with very irregular spelling but it tells you what it was like to be that person and sitting in the Museum library I was put in touch with the early English settlers and with their Wampanoag neighbors and I was given the sense of what that hard and difficult life was and we live in a very old house now, which we absolutely love. And when we bought that house, we love that beyond the tree back was John Mayhew, who sadly passed away last year, but we heard that when he went to negotiate, his father went to negotiate, the purchase of their house from the Look family who inhabited it for more than a hundred years, Mr. Look, the farmer, was having his lunch and his lunch was one raw turnip and before that one raw turnip lunch, ergots in my mind as I walk through that house and as I walk in the Vineyard today and it is a place often and unsurely that summer idle that that hard, uncompromising, aching life on this beautiful Island is a journey that we all have to continue to take to keep this precious Museum, and the Museum, thank you for helping us to do that.