Acclaimed Author Haruki Murakami Delivers Annual Cornille Lecture at Wellesley

Haruki Murakami seated on stage and holding a microphone to answer a question.
Image credit: Lisa Abitbol
Author  Aidan Reid ’24
Published on 

Wellesley College’s Alumnae Hall Auditorium was entirely packed with students, faculty, staff, and community members on Thursday, April 27, as author Haruki Murakami gave the annual Cornille Lecture.

Murakami is the Mary L. Cornille Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Humanities for spring 2023. His work, which has been translated into more than 50 languages, includes the acclaimed novels Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore. His new novel, The City and Its Uncertain Walls, came out in Japan earlier this month and is expected to be released in the U.S. sometime next year. Murakami gave the audience a preview of the book, his first to be published in six years, during his lecture. “The hero turns back and forth between two worlds,” he said. “One world is surrounded by high walls, and there is no exit. Within the walls, people live a peaceful life. No one harbors desires, no one suffers. The other world is the world you and I live in, where we go through pain, desire, and contradictions. The protagonist has to choose one world for himself.”

The morning of the lecture, Eve Zimmerman, professor of Japanese, director of the Suzy Newhouse Center for the Humanities, and moderator of Murakami’s lecture, said she was looking forward to hearing the reactions of Wellesley students. “We’ve had a few opportunities for the Murakamis, both Mr. and Mrs., to talk with Wellesley students, and those have been my favorite moments so far,” she said. This excitement was clearly shared by Wellesley students: The first night tickets were available, 430 Wellesley students registered for the event.

Zimmerman’s own experience as a graduate student at Columbia University inspired her to invite Murakami to come to Wellesley as a Cornille Visiting Professor: “My supervising professor would invite various writers to the university, and so I thought why not do the same thing at Wellesley. And the administration was really supportive.” Murakami has been holding monthly discussions with Wellesley’s faculty, attended a tea at Acorns House, and stopped by JPN 358: Haruki Murakami and Modern Japanese Literature, Zimmerman’s course focused on his work.

During his lecture, Murakami said the basis for the plot of The City and Its Uncertain Walls comes from a work he wrote 40 years ago that was published in a literary magazine. Writing this book, he said, “became a very meaningful task, because it made me realize how heavy the weight of 40 years can be.” Murakami also discussed our world today, one that is only just coming out of a global pandemic and where the war between Ukraine and Russia still rages, giving his novel a more timely significance. With war and danger in our world, he asked, will the sterile, walled world of his novel seem more enticing, both to the reader and the protagonist? To find out, Murakami said, one has to read the book.

Murakami ended by posing an important question: How much of an effect can a novel have in the age of media that is made to be consumed instantly? While he acknowledged the drawbacks of an art form that cannot be instantaneously created or consumed, he came to this conclusion: “I believe that the strongest virtue of the novel is that it takes time to write and to read. There are such things in this world that can only be created if one takes time and can only be appreciated if one takes time … for that reason, they are absolutely essential.”

Through his Cornille Lecture, his time in Zimmerman’s class, and the Acorns House tea, Murakami has given Wellesley students a chance to gain insight into his work. Wen Li Yau ’24 said of the lecture, “I enjoyed the way he spoke about the way things are in his books; libraries are just libraries, wells are just wells. He writes really raw and unusual stories, and it is curious but fitting that our readerly inclination to pick apart his novels is diminished by his aversion to literary analysis.” As Zimmerman said, “The reason Murakami appeals to younger people is because he gives them encouragement to go and find ways to be more authentic in the world.”