Voices: Why books are essential to make us laugh and connect – and we must never let anyone curb writers’ freedom of expression

Human beings have always needed the connection of literature – its wisdom as well as its sheer escapism (PA)
Human beings have always needed the connection of literature – its wisdom as well as its sheer escapism (PA)

Just over 60 years ago, John Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature. He gave a stirring speech on that occasion, a copy of which should, I believe, be on the desk of every author, as an encouragement and as a reminder of the “ancient commission of the writer”.

He said this, “I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession and in the great and good men who have practised it through the ages”. I would like to take this opportunity to echo that lion’s roar on your behalf – and, of course, to rectify the unaccountable omission of great and good women.

All of you, here, must take the most enormous pride in your profession and in the part that you play in bringing joy, comfort, laughter, companionship and hope through your writing. You open our eyes to others’ experiences and remind us that we are not alone. Human beings have always needed the connection of literature – its wisdom as well as its sheer escapism.

In today’s challenging climate, we need it more than ever. Since my childhood, I have known this to be true. But after I launched my Reading Room, two years ago, I have received countless letters and online comments that have demonstrated to me that this is a universal truth. As some of you may know, my Reading Room started as a list of nine of my favourite books, literally scribbled on a piece of paper during the first lockdown. It is now a global community of over 155,000, supported by internationally-renowned men and women of letters, as well as thousands of readers.

I am now delighted to announce that the Reading Room has become a charity, working to close the gap between readers and writers and helping people of all ages and backgrounds find and connect to books. We have lots of excitements in the pipeline and I do very much hope you will be able to attend our first literary festival at Hampton Court Palace later this year, when we shall bring together some of the world’s foremost authors, actors, experts and literature lovers for a day celebrating the written word.

The development of my Reading Room could never have happened without you all and I am deeply grateful to each one of you for your support and contributions to it. So thank you, on behalf of book lovers and book clubs everywhere, for sharing your talents with us and for everything you do to promote literacy and a love of literature.

Please keep doing so and please remain true to your calling, unimpeded by those who may wish to curb the freedom of your expression or impose limits on your imagination. Enough said! Let there be no squeaking like mice about your achievements, but only roaring, like a pride of lions.

Words by The Queen Consort to mark the second anniversary of the foundation of Her Majesty’s Reading Room Charity at Clarence House, 23 February 2023