A Nobel Undertaking

Siza Vieira's pen designed for Saramago

The Pulitzer Prizes are being announced today at 3 p.m. and as a writer, I am anxious to learn which names will be added to the list of history’s literary luminaries. Beyond my love of words, I’m a writer who values aesthetics greatly—it’s likely why my path led me to a career as a design and architecture journalist. When my latest book, Four Florida Moderns, debuted recently, I was given an incredible gift by a dear friend—a beautiful writing instrument that I was to wield at my book signings. It was designed by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza Vieira for Cleto Munari’s tribute to five Nobel laureates—another award that distinguishes the world’s greatest writers from the rest of us. When I pulled it from its artful box, I looked at its architectonic beauty in awe. Munari asked Vieira to create the pen in honor of Portuguese author Jose Saramago, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1998.

In his book Blindness, the author tells the story of a fictitious country whose entire population was suddenly treated to a loss of sight. Rather than describe the lack of vision suffered by the masses as a plunge into darkness, as is commonplace in literature, Saramago’s characters suffered “white” blindness—his protagonist describing it as being “caught in a mist”; as having “fallen into a milky sea.” It may seem like a small distinction of originality but I believe it is subtleties like this that signal the mark of a great talent. If my pen brings me a smidgen of the creative genius I find in Saramago’s work, I will feel blessed indeed! The other four pairings that brought the pens to life are Japanese architect Toyo Ito and Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz; Italian architect Alessandro Mendini and American author Toni Morrison; Spanish architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca and Canadian author Saul Bellow; and Munari himself, who designed the pen inspired by Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka.

Alvaro Siza Vieira

In order to preserve the process that resulted from the collaborations, Munari published The Book of Five Pens, which holds biographies of the architects and authors, renderings of each pen, excerpts of prose by the authors and a replica of the letters written to Munari that describe each author’s personal relationship to the act of writing. I feel humbled to have been given such a heartfelt gift and I have to admit that each time I use the instrument it feels like a celebration of a fine literary lineage, which I aspire to deserve. The pen is also so architecturally substantial that it makes the act of writing feel like a bold declaration, even when—or perhaps because—I’m most often signing my name.

Munari—a designer, patron and curator from Vicenza, Italy—has launched so many careers and made design celebrities of so many talented people throughout history that I will go so far as to say we will someday be awarding the Munari Prize to some of the most distinguished names in design. To see one of the visionary’s latest projects, visit my Examiner page. There you’ll find the Magnificent 7, a set of limited edition tables designed by Munari, Alessandro Mendini, Mario Botta, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Sandro Chia, Mimmo Paladino and Mark Strand. Asking poets to design tables: now that’s what I call A Movable Feast!

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