Kate DiCamillo was Krista Tippett’s guest on the On Being podcast last week—one of my favorite interviewers interviewing my favorite writers. If you care about storytelling, you should probably go listen to that episode.
During the conversation, Tippett referred to a Newbery acceptance speech that DiCamillo made a few years ago in which she talked about the word capacious. I was sufficiently intrigued that I went and found a transcript of the speech, which you can read here (and I hope you will).
To be capacious is to be large, roomy—to have the capacity to contain a lot of things. Kate DiCamillo first came across the word—or, in any case, started paying attention to the word—in the last line of William Maxwell’s story, “The Thistles in Sweden”: “if it is true that we are all in the hand of God, what a capacious hand it must be.”
Ultimately, DiCamillo’s point is that as we read stories, we become more capacious ourselves. I’ve always said that reading stories a way of living bonus lives. DiCamillo describes what happened in her own heart when, as a little girl, she climbed into her backyard treehouse and read the books she got from the library:
I could feel the stories I read pushing against the walls of my heart.
I could feel myself expanding.
I did not, then, know the word capacious.
But I did know, I could feel, that my heart was being opened by the words I was reading.
That expansion of the reader’s heart, giving people greater capacity for joy and for sorrow, is the work of writers, illustrators, librarians, and everybody else in the book business, writes Camillo:
We have been given the sacred task of making hearts large through story. We are working to make hearts that are capable of containing much joy and much sorrow, hearts capacious enough to contain the complexities and mysteries and contradictions of ourselves and of each other.
We are working to make hearts that know how to love this world.
This is all related to another beautiful piece of DiCamillo’s writing that Krista Tippett asked her to read in the aforementioned podcast episode. It’s a letter to author Matt De La Peña that was published in Time magazine a few years ago. The question that DiCamillo and De La Peña were discussing was whether children’s authors should tell their young readers the truth about the suffering and hardship, or whether they should protect their young readers’ innocence.
DiCamillo’s answer is that writers should tell the truth but in a way that makes the truth bearable. Which is easier said than done. She offers Charlotte’s Web as an example of a children’s book that is incredibly honest about the sadness of the world while still making that sadness bearable. How did E.B. White manage it? The only answer, writes DiCamillo, is love.
E. B. White loved the world. And in loving the world, he told the truth about it — its sorrow, its heartbreak, its devastating beauty. He trusted his readers enough to tell them the truth, and with that truth came comfort and a feeling that we were not alone.
I think our job is to trust our readers.
I think our job is to see and to let ourselves be seen.
I think our job is to love the world.
I don’t really have anything to add to that. Here, again, are those links:
- Kate DiCamillo on the On Being Podcast with Krista Tippett.
- Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery acceptance speech on capaciousness.
- Kate DiCamillo’s letter on telling the truth and making it bearable.