Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel reflects on a life of writing ‘not one word too many’


Tom Zoellner, associate professor of English at Chapman University, led a conversation with Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel at Chapman University Monday discussion the writers that have influenced Wiesel’s work. The conversation was part Wiesel’s annual week-long visit to Chapman as a Distinguished Presidential Fellow.

Tom Zoellner, associate professor of English at Chapman University, led a conversation with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel at Chapman University on Monday. The conversation focused on the writers who have influenced Wiesel’s work. The conversation was part of Wiesel’s annual weeklong visit to Chapman as a distinguished presidential fellow. (Photo/Jeanine Hill)


The discipline of journalism, from its obligation to deadlines to its demands for brevity, was an early professional influence that helped shape the writing of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

“Writing in general is not what you leave in, but what you take out,” Wiesel  told a Chapman University audience Monday. The Boston University professor with more than 60 books to his credit equated good writing to fine sculpture, which requires the artist to winnow down the material to its most important essence, or “not one word too many.”

Wiesel made the comments at the first of a series of conversations that are a component of his annual weeklong visit to Chapman as a distinguished presidential fellow, in conjunction with the
Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education
. The opening conversation, held in the Wallace All Faiths Chapel of the Fish Interfaith Center, launched a week that will include private visits with classes and student groups, a reader’s theatre performance of Wiesel’s writings and more conversations with Chapman faculty.

The first conversation was led by author
Tom Zoellner
, associate professor in the Department of English at Chapman, and focused on writers who have influenced Wiesel’s lifetime of writing, which includes memoir, fiction, nonfiction, biography, essays and plays. Wiesel listed ancient religious texts and the novels of Albert Camus, Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky as being among his literary influences.

Regarding his own prodigious amount of work, Wiesel said he was propelled not by confidence but an uneasiness that he had yet to get it just right. Even as his first book, the critically acclaimed memoir
Night
, captured the world’s attention, he was unconvinced it was adequate to tell the story of his Holocaust experience and survival. So he kept writing.

“Had I not written
Night
I don’t think I would have written any other book. I am not sure that I have found the right words to this day … I am not convinced,” he said.

Reserved seating for the remainder of the week’s events is closed, but standby seating will be offered if it becomes available. Anyone without reservations wishing to attend one of the conversations should check in at the stand by table outside the Fish Interfaith Center.

All conversations are free. Remaining events include:

  • Genocide & the Obligation to Remember: Elie Wiesel and Richard Hovannisian, Ph.D., professor emeritus, UCLA, moderated by Jennifer Keene, Ph.D., professor, Department of History, Wednesday, April 17, 8 p.m.
  • Readers’ Theatre Presentation: The World Within the Words of Elie Wiesel, 8 to 9 p.m., moderated by Nina Lenoir, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Theatre.

Dawn Bonker

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