Tag Archives: Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame

Arts

Writers Hall of Fame Honors, Encourages

I arrived fifteen minutes early before the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame induction ceremony began. The annual event was held at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. It was first held at the Center in 2012 and this was my first time attending. As I glanced around the room, I observed that the mood of this night was convivial and one of joy. Attendees smiled and hugged each other as they sipped on wine and snacked on hors d’oeuvres. This was to be a celebration of the craft of writing that has distinguished Kentucky and put it unmistakably on the literary map.

As a writer and poet, I was impressed that so many had come to pay homage to some of the state’s finest writers. I was later told later that 225 people were in attendance.

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(Photo by Doug Begley) – Left to right: poet Maurice Manning, author Silas House and Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen

“The Writers Hall of Fame was initiated as a way to support established writers and encourage young writers to take up the craft,” explained Neil Chethik, the executive director of the Carnegie Center and the evening’s emcee. “It has served as a rallying point for Kentucky writers, and has brought added attention to the great legacy of writing that we have in Kentucky. I think writers feel more respected, and some feel more motivated knowing that the Hall of Fame exists. I’ve heard numerous young writers say, ‘my goal is to be in this hall one day,’” he added.

The room filled quickly and I was grateful that the Carnegie Center had reserved a seat for me. After introductory remarks, some of Kentucky’s most well known writers, including the present and past state poet laureates, came forward and read excerpts from the inductees’ work. The fondness for the craft of writing was clearly evident as the hushed crowd listened to the readings.     

The first writer to be inducted was James Lane Allen (1849 – 1925) who was born in Lexington. 

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Allen has been called Kentucky’s first important novelist and his work garnered international appeal. He had a successful career writing fiction, travel writing, and drama spanning 34 years.  Allen published 20 books and contributed to some of the most prominent magazines of his era.

Next was Harlan Hubbard (1900 – 1988). He was born in Bellevue in northern Kentucky and lived at Payne Hollow in Trimble County. Hubbard was well-known for living on the river in Thoreau-like simplicity removed from modern times.

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Hubbard published 12 books, including journals, travel essays, and various woodcuts and paintings. Louisville-based producer Morgan Atkinson documented the Hubbards’ life in the film, Wonder, featuring passages voiced by author Wendell Berry. Only last year, Berry himself was honored as the first living author inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

Alice Hegan Rice (1870  – 1942) was inducted next. Famous for her bestselling novel, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, Rice lived her entire life in Louisville.

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Rice was inspired to write the book after her involvement with Louisville’s underprivileged children in the slum area known as the Cabbage Patch district. The novel has been translated into many languages, and was the basis for many stage, radio, and film versions. Rice published over 20 books in her lifetime.

The following inductee was Jean Ritchie (1922 – 2015).The youngest of 14 children — 10 of them girls – she was born in Viper, Kentucky, and is the first singer to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  She was an iconic figure in American folk music who performed at such venues as Carnegie Hall and at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

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Ritchie‘s songs have been recorded by such artists as Johnny Cash, Emmy Lou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Judy Collins. She recorded 33 albums and published 10 books.

The final writer and only living one to be inducted into the 2016 Hall of Fame was Bobbie Ann Mason (1940). Mason was born on a dairy farm outside of Mayfield in western Kentucky. She has published 5 novels, 7 short fiction collections, a memoir, a biography, and 2 works of literary criticism.  She has been published by Harper and Row, HarperCollins and Random House.

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Mason’s first collection of short stories, Shiloh and Other Stories (1982), brought critical acclaim, and she has been lauded as a master of the short story. Her stories have appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review. In 1985 she wrote her first novel, In Country, which was made into a Hollywood film. Mason professed to be inadequate as a speaker, but proved to be eloquent as she addressed the crowd. Her demeanor was one of utter humility—graciously thanking those who were assembled, and she proclaimed the importance of fiction readers.   

I asked Bobbie Ann if she has a writing goal she has yet to accomplish and she replied, ”A new book of stories! I’m experimenting a little with flash fiction, and I’d like to gather up some of those and see what happens.”

Mason’s major awards include the PEN/Hemingway Award, National Book Award finalist, The Pushcart Prize, O. Henry Award, The National Endowment for the Arts Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist in biography, and Southern Book Award for fiction.

I asked Bobbie Ann, given her many prestigious accolades, which she was most proud to have received. She replied, “I would have to say the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame is tops.” 

"The End" message typed by vintage typewriter.

  

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White Ring: Reflections on the words of Wendell Berry

(Photo provided by the Carnegie Center for Learning and Literacy)

(Photo provided by the Carnegie Center for Learning and Literacy)

‘The survival of literacy in an age of illiteracy may require us to remember how physical, how much of the senses, the life of literacy is.’ – Wendell Berry (courtesy of the Carnegie Center, Lexington, Kentucky.)

I was sitting on the only piece of paper within reach – an oversize name tag reserving my chair for the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony of Wendell Berry. The paper was beige, dull, and heavy – not really of a character to form any sort of story. The letters of my name were nicely printed on it, each had serifs that matched the decorative embellishments framing the length of my name top and bottom.

Like a mother hen to egg; I guarded it as though it was something very special. The piece of paper was after all saving a chair for me in the front room of the Carnegie Center amidst some of the most dedicated writers, journalists, editors, and publishers in all of Kentucky. Equally important: I knew the opposite side of it was blank.

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007), Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960), Jim Wayne Miller (1936-1996) and Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) were inducted that night too. Excerpts from the writings of each was selected as carefully as were the readers of them.  Ron Whitehead read Hunter S. Thompson’s words with a volume that was maybe intended to mimic Thompson’s humor but played more clearly as the rawness of life in the absence of his long-lost friend.

Mary Ellen Miller whispered through weaker vocal chords; reminiscing – with a melancholy that each of us could sense – on her late husband’s work.  Neil Chethik’s clear articulation as he introduced Wendell Berry removed any need for us to explain why we were there.

For me, each of the voices that spoke that night resounded more intently than the words spoken. There was something in the act of reading them aloud. They were comforting, familiar, communal sounds that we all know and I hope will continue to know.

Then, it was quiet as Wendell Berry – the first living inductee to be honored into the Hall of Fame – stepped up to read what he must have prepared as an acceptance speech. But, his cadence, his tonality, his sincerity and humility, and the words that filled the then hot room in the Carnegie Center on that cold January night in Lexington, Kentucky were a marked call-to-action.

No electronic devices, scratchings of pen on paper or the turning of pages interrupted as Berry made reference to many urgent public issues. He emphatically stated that in Kentucky we have no way to vet our concerns, no public forum, no healthy outlet for the a much needed dialogue about many things including the writings of Kentucky authors. There was only silence as he spoke of the ‘cloud of silence’. Postures shifted. I gently pulled the piece of paper from its resting place.

Berry continued noting that here in Kentucky ‘we have a sufficiency of writers of books, publishers of books, and readers of books, but no space for related public discourse.’ We roost with eyes closed, content on expressing our opinions in what has now become our public – the semi-private world of the Facebook and Twitter. As Leon Wieseltier notes in Among the Disrupted (New York Times, January 7, 2015) what we prefer now is a ‘twittering cacophony’ where alacritous and terse one-liners grant the highest of merits – a like, a comment. Cackling hens that only ding.

As the co-publisher of a young, fully digital magazine dedicated to arts and culture in Kentucky, I left feeling a keen sense of responsibility – not to explain what Wendell Berry had said, but to more fully understand it for myself. How much time do we have before something more significant is lost? What is my responsibility in the digital age? How can I help move us beyond what Wieseltier describes as the ‘lag between invention in the apprehension of its consequences’?

We cannot explain it fully, but my fellow UnderMain-ers and I have agreed to bring to our readers and our listeners reviews of books by Kentucky authors as well as the occasional reading. Just as in Berry’s move back to Kentucky, we might find sustenance in a new iteration of the sounding pages.

We thank the Carnegie Center for hosting the induction and for inviting us to attend. For a copy of the full text of Wendell Berry’s speech, click here.

For The Explainers
Spell the spiel of cause and effect
Ride the long rail of fact after fact;
What curled the plume of the Drake’s tail
and put the white ring around his neck?

– Wendell Berry