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Ethan Hawke on performing Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.

Literary Hub

October 20, 2020, 10:16am

Ethan Hawke, actor, novelist, and Generation X’s go-to movie-boyfriend, recorded a three-hour abridged version of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead last month (You can buy tickets here). He shared some insight from the reading and what he thinks of Robinson (he likes her… a lot).

On reading literature out loud:

There’s something about the experience of when a book is read to you that I somehow am intimate with it in a way that I am not when it’s when I’m on my own with it. Reading books out loud to my kids, having my wife read a book out loud, listening to it, listening to an audio tape, I somehow have a kind of relationship with it that is different than the solitary kind of landscape of your mind. And so the actor in me just loves it. I always feel that whenever I read a book out loud, you just know it’s so much better. You notice word choices, which words they choose to repeat, the way they turn phrases. You understand the rhythms of it better. It comes alive.

On Marilynne Robinson:

This book, Gilead, has always been deeply moving to me, there’s something about her writing. This is who you want to be. You just leave the book feeling grateful for being alive. She makes the experience of being a human being seem like it might have some value, which so often it doesn’t… You don’t feel she has an agenda with the reader, that she’s trying to be smart or clever or anything. You feel that she’s kind of peeling some fake stuff away from life, so you can see what life really is. I had the great fortune once of watching her read from her writing and watching her handle a Q and A. And it was as near a religious experience as I can claim to have had. It’s what you want church to be like, an opening up of you… in a marriage with other people. You don’t feel as alone. She was a very powerful person. And so, I feel like it’s a great moment with all this—the world feels so rocky right now—it’s kind of nice to have her peace. To touch it like a stone.

How is work different now:

Well, it’s clearly different. I mean, one of the fascinating things to me is reading this book, and the character talks a lot about living through the Spanish Influenza and having to give services with a mask on and people sitting as far apart from each other as they could. The first time I read this book, I don’t remember clocking that. And this time it gives me chills. Like, right! We really need to read more, because this stuff has happened before and we always act like we’re making it up as if it’s new, and our grandfathers and grandmothers have gone through this before. So that’s really valuable. There’s one great mysteries of life is how every time something horrible happens it actually has an inverse effect of creating compassion and gratitude inside you. Utterly mysterious. But I mean, I’ve never felt so grateful for a job. Something to do, a place to be.

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The recorded reading is available from October 19 to October 29, organized by The 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center. You can buy tickets here.

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