Speech State Secretary Gunay Uslu
16 November 2022
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We have begun many mornings together.
You and I.
I have often woken up alongside you.
I took much of you into my day.
And during that day, I would often think of our moments together.
Alas, it eventually came to an end.
Saying goodbye was difficult.
It was around two and a half thousand times, all told.
When the end came, when it was over, you were asked what had inspired you most.
‘Man’s ability to deceive’, you answered.
Himself and others.
There were no night-time escapades.
But because of all your Footnotes – that is what I was talking about, of course – it feels as if we have known each other for years.
I began almost every morning in an Amsterdam cafe.
I would order something and reach for the newspaper.
With your Footnotes on the front page.
They were like fingertips that would massage my mind for the rest of the day.
I often wondered exactly when you wrote them.
Did you start the previous evening? Did you have a pile ready to go?
There was always an unsettling or provocative thought there on Page 1.
Some of the customers in that cafe would hug a hot cappuccino – that’s how their day began.
But I would wake up with you.
Now, the Footnotes appear small at first glance, especially alongside your contribution to our national art and culture.
We are all familiar with your career and work.
It is why you have won so many prizes in the past.
But in that short piece on the front page you could raise questions just as great as in an entire chapter of one of your books.
Just as strong, just as profound.
Perhaps the power of the writer on the front page of a national newspaper is even greater than that of the author who has sold tens of thousands of novels.
But so what?
In your case, that’s not a choice.
The Johannes Vermeer Prijs has eluded you thus far.
I suspect that you didn’t even know it could be awarded for literature.
This award — the most prestigious state award for art — has never before been won by a writer.
Which is ludicrous.
Because our country is so rich in literature and its makers.
It is high time that the award went to a writer.
As I prepared for this evening, I tried to find words to express why I appreciate you so much as an artist.
Just one word kept coming to mind.
I can’t imagine you as someone who does things by halves.
Except perhaps the washing up or the hoovering, or something as tedious as administration, of course.
I see you as someone who always gives 120%. You demand it from yourself.
From your time in Afghanistan to when you took to the stage as a dancer.
It’s such a shame that I never had the opportunity to see you live in ‘Microcosm’.
However, I avidly read every sentence about it in Het Parool.
I would suggest that this evening is another example of supreme directorial skills.
You have, as it were, taken charge and ensured that the evening takes form precisely as you think it should.
I like that!
So much has already been said and written about your work and your contribution to the status of literature in the Netherlands. I will add only a personal wish for the future.
You have now won practically… everything.
But an artist is always working on his next plan.
What’s next for you?
Perhaps a Gouden Griffel?
You are now a father. This will change you. It is inevitable. Your life will never be the same again, Arnon…
I read somewhere that you think that shielding children from reality does not result in resilience and happiness, but in weakness and uncertainty.
You have also said that you like to write about darkness, including that within yourself, in the hope of bringing light into the world.
Perhaps it is time for a children’s book full of Arnon Grunberg’s thoughts and ideas.
That is something that adults would also enjoy.
All big people begin as small people, so we really cannot start early enough.
Bring the light into your child’s world.
Take friends, parents and grandparents on that adventure.
It will be a big adventure for small people – one that only your mind can produce.
If in a few years you receive that Gouden Griffel, I hope you will be asked the same question as when you stopped writing your Footnotes:
“What human quality has inspired you the most in your writing?” I have already mentioned your answer: man’s ability to deceive.
I am curious to see if this will change after writing that children’s book.
It is bound to.
Because very little in this life is permanent, wouldn’t you agree?
But first, let us return to this evening and enjoy this high point of your achievements to date.
‘Here we are now. Entertain us.’
Arnon Grunberg, many congratulations on winning the Johannes Vermeer Prijs 2022.
It is most richly deserved!