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Everybody Reads: Ruth Ozeki

Ruth Ozeki, the featured author for Everybody Reads 2023, speaks about reading, writing, and the power of storytelling in her metafictional novel A Tale for the Time Being.

In this episode, we bring you a talk from Ruth Ozeki. It was the culminating event of the 2023 Everybody Reads program.

Every year, the Multnomah County Library chooses one book they hope the whole city will read. Between January and April, the Library, and their partner organizations, host events based around the themes of the book, and they distribute thousands of free copies—thanks to the Library Foundation—to readers of all ages from across the county. At Literary Arts, our role is to bring the author to town for a talk in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The 2023 Everybody Reads program featured Ruth Ozeki and her novel A Tale for the Time Being.

Ozeki is the author of four novels, several of which have been international bestsellers. She is also a filmmaker, a teacher, and, astonishingly, also an ordain Zen Buddhist Priest. In many ways, all of these facets of her professional and spiritual life can be found shaping and influencing A Tale for the Time Being.

Ozkei’s talk is both fascinating and refreshing for her candor about how hard the work of writing fiction can be— a process for her that is, by her own account, frustrating, time consuming, mysterious, and deeply rewarding. The story of how A Tale for the Time Being was completed— and it almost wasn’t— is a ten-year journey interrupted and upended by personal and world events, and sustained by the voice of Nao, the main character, that kept talking to Ozeki the whole time.

“Here’s a tip for emerging writers […] when a character deigns to speak to you, you must stop whatever it is you are doing and write down what they are saying, otherwise they will go an find another writer to talk to.”

Get you copy of A Tale for the Time Being from Bookshop.org

Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker, and Zen Buddhist priest. She is the award-winning author of three novels, My Year of MeatsAll Over Creation, and A Tale for the Time Being, which was a finalist for the 2013 Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and has been published in over thirty countries. The Los Angeles Times called the novel “exquisite,” the Washington Post called it a “dazzling tapestry of metaphor and meaning,” and the Oprah Magazine declared it “masterfully woven.” Her latest novel is The Book of Form and Emptiness. Her nonfiction work includes a memoir, The Face: A Time Code, and the documentary film, Halving the Bones. She is affiliated with the Everyday Zen Foun­dation and teaches creative writing at Smith College, where she is the Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities.

The 2024 Everybody Reads book is Tomorrow, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. For information about how to engage with the program, visit the Multnomah County Library’s web site. Gabrielle Zevin will be in Portland on Thursday, April 4 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall for the culminating event of the 2024 Everybody Reads Program. For information about tickets, visit literary-arts.org.