Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin honored by alma mater

By Alexandra Garfield

Game of Thrones author and producer George R. R. Martin is known for killing off many of his main characters in his novels – something that’s a bit hard to do in journalism.

But his achievements won him a title in journalism royalty this November. He was inducted into the Medill Hall of Achievement, an honor bestowed by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. He is the author of the best-selling series, A Song of Ice and Fire, the basis for the award-winning HBO drama Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones is also the first book in the series.

Martin, a Medill alumnus, accepted his award in an auditorium packed with current Medill students and faculty.

“We’re all here because we’re exceptionally grateful for the world of Westeros and the many worlds beyond it that George R. R. Martin created,” said Medill graduate student Colleen Day in introducing him. “It’s an amazing, amazing world to be in, but it’s also kind of a problematic world to be in if you like your head.”

Martin chuckled at Daly’s joke. “I was very proud of my work at Medill. Graduating and getting my bachelors and masters, from the finest school of journalism in the United States, ” Martin said. “But I always felt vaguely guilty because afterwards I failed to do any actual, you know, journalism.”

He is, however, completely unrepentant about the bloodbaths in his books. He stated that death, like other aspects of his books, is part of life, history and the complexity of a character.

“Nobody gets up in the morning and thinks what evil can I do today? Everybody thinks they’re the hero in history. Nobody thinks they’re the villain.”
-George R. R. Martin

“It’s the characters, it’s the people that make a story interesting. You have to make them real, you have to make their emotional journey real,” he explained. “Fiction is all about emotion. If you want to explain nuclear fusion, write an essay or a scientific paper or an article for a newspaper.”

“’The human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about’,” he said, quoting from author William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. This is a mantra for his writing.

“I’ve always intended for all of my characters to be grey. None of us are all black or all white or all good or all evil,” he said. “We are all contradictory, mixed up human beings who have within ourselves the capacity for heroism, villainy and selfishness. Exploring that is one of the great pleasures of writing or reading fiction.”

Students were quick to ask Martin about his grades while at Medill. “I never got an F, thank God, that would have traumatized me,” Martin said.

He also told a colorful story about one of his teachers who said Martin’s work was “too cute.”

Martin said that this professor would “cross out all my clever metaphors and well written stories and bring it back to, like, facts.” He chuckled at the memory.

“Fiction is all about emotion. If you want to explain nuclear fusion, write an essay or a scientific paper or an article for a newspaper. But if you want to explore people, the human heart in conflict with itself, how something impacts human beings and the lives they live and the shape of the world, that’s what fiction is good for – the emotional part of it.”
-George R. R. Martin

“I think my Medill experience nonetheless was a huge part of where I am and what I have become,” Martin admitted. “It helped shape my writing; it helped shape my views on the world. It made me the kind of person who can write the stories I’ve gone on to write.” He graduated with his BSJ in 1970 and his MSJ in 1971.

Less than 1 percent of Medill graduates receive the Hall of Achievement award. Martin is the 152nd person in this prestigious group.

“The fact that, after so long, Medill would give me this recognition is an enormous pleasure,” Martin said.

Photo at top: George R. R. Martin receives Hall of Achievement Award from his alma mater. (Alexandra Garfield/Medill)