Princeton University awarded honorary degrees during Commencement exercises June 3 to five distinguished individuals for their contributions to humanitarian efforts, music and entertainment, political theory, science and medicine, literature and higher learning.
Haruki Murakami, Doctor of Letters
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1949, and his writing is read around the world in more than 40 languages. Best known as a fiction writer with a taste for the surreal, Murakami is also a highly regarded essayist and translator. After studying theater arts at Waseda University in Tokyo, Murakami owned a jazz bar in Japan's capital for seven years before publishing his first novel, "Hear the Wind Sing," which won the Gunzou Literature Prize for budding writers in 1979. It was followed by "Pinball, 1973" and "A Wild Sheep Chase," the latter of which won the Noma Literary Prize for New Writers and established Murakami's literary career. In 1987, "Norwegian Wood" became a best-seller in Japan.
Starting in 1991 Murakami and his wife, Yoko, spent four years in the United States, where he was a visiting lecturer at Princeton. In that time, he wrote "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" (1994), which won the distinguished Yomiuri Literary Prize. In 1995, after the Kobe earthquake and the poison gas attack in the Tokyo subway, Murakami returned to Japan and wrote about these events. "The Place That Was Promised," a nonfiction book based on interviews with the gas attack victims, won the Kuwabara Takeo Academic Award and became the basis for the English edition "Underground," published in 2000. Murakami's literary honors also include the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, the Franz Kafka Prize and the Asahi Prize. The English translation of Murakami's most recent work, a memoir titled "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running," will appear later this summer.
His literary spiderwebs remind us that, though we may not be fully aware of it, something profoundly disturbing lies at the heart of what we take for everyday reality. With his surreal imagination grounded in down-to-earth experience, his novels, short stories, essays and even his memoir juxtapose the uncanny with the ordinary to capture the loneliness and uncertainty at the heart of modern life. His protagonists may be disaffected young Japanese men and women, but their experience of ennui and loss, and their search for love and certainty, speak to us all. Amid the alienation, flickers of hopefulness spring from seemingly random human interactions and connections, reminding us that the race is well worth running.