Author Kevin Wilson shares how reading and writing saved his life at Chowan University Hobson Lecture
MURFREESBORO, NC – “I love the idea there is magic in the world,” said Kevin Wilson. “Magic begins to seep away as we grow older, however, writing is the closest thing to magic that exists in the world.” A reader can feel emotions, connect with characters, and find control in a world when so much of the world feels out of control. Reading and writing gave Wilson a gift, the gift of life, in the most literal and literary sense.
Taking the stage at the Hobson Lecture on April 3, 2017 in Vaughan Auditorium of Robert Marks Hall on the Chowan University campus, Wilson was candid about his struggles with mental illness, his fears, and his accomplishments. He discussed his own writing, his thoughts on reading, and writing in general. More importantly though, he shared how reading and writing served as coping mechanisms that provided him with the will to live, and literally saved his life.
The ability to create something from nothing, added purpose and value to Wilson’s life. “Something amazing happens when I tell a story, and put it on a page. Even if it’s bad, I look at it and think, ‘I made this with my own two hands.’ If you make it, it has worth. No matter what anyone says. To me, my books are worth it, because they are mine.”
When asked to name his favorite short story from his book Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, Wilson responded with “Worst Case Scenario.” It was not necessarily his favorite content, but writing the story enabled him to avoid a nervous breakdown, something he was all too familiar with. He knew he was beginning to see the signs of a breakdown and decided to try to distract himself. He wrote the short story in 36 hours. In that final moment when the story was complete and the breakdown avoided, Wilson learned the extent of the power writing held for him.
Even earlier in life Wilson contemplated suicide. Reading, he says, saved him. “Reading saved my life,” he said. “Books offered a safe place to interact with something outside of myself, they were guides for how to live. Sometimes it became difficult to separate myself from the characters.”
Having a passion for reading, and learning how to write, created the ability in Wilson to discern truth from falsehoods. He shared, “If you know how a story functions you can figure out when people are lying to you.” He learned how to exist in the world through reading. By creating a strong desire to know what would happen next in his own story, forging a new kind of connection and control, reading prevented his suicide.
The more Wilson read, the more he began to think about creating his own stories. In his late teens, he decided to dabble in writing. “Something new happened,” he shared, “I made something. A simple story, typed out and printed, served as a reminder that I was a person who deserved to exist in the world.”
A man who thought he would never go to college, never marry, never have children, never overcome his mental issues, overcame it all through reading and writing. He now has three published books. Nicole Kidman purchased the film rights his first novel, The Family Fang, which is now a major motion picture starring Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman and Christopher Walken.
Wilson was honest about his continuing relapses and struggles. However, he stood in front of a packed room and gave an inspiring presentation to students in the afternoon, and faculty, staff and community members in the evening, regardless of how terrifying it was for him. He was able to do this because reading and writing gave him the power and courage he once lacked. Courage is not being unafraid, but being afraid and acting anyway.