Just about this time last year I found myself packed into the Carnegie Center to celebrate the inductees into the Kentucky Writer’s Hall of Fame. The main reason I was there was the fact that Hunter S. Thompson was being inducted. Damn, I was excited about that. Hunter was the reason I got into writing in the first place. I hold in him very high regard as an author and Kentuckian so I was zoned in that night. Hunter was all that I was thinking about. Which was justifiable, I was there to write an article about the event for a website called GonzoToday.com and Hunter was of course going to be my main topic. It was a tremendous experience and exciting opportunity for me at the time. Here I was, witnessing my literary idol being ushered into the literary history books of the home state I share with him. But the main inductee of the night was not who I was there to write a story about.
Mr. Wendell Berry was being inducted into the Kentucky Writer’s Hall of Fame as well. The only living author to do so. He was there mingling amongst the crowd and was even going to speak at the end of the night. But like I said, I was zoned in to one person being honored. I had Thompson tunnel vision. Hell, I even saw Wendell upstairs as he walked out of the latrine and didn’t even bother to go introduce myself or shake his hand before he went back to the maddening crowd below. Looking back, that is a huge regret of mine. There I was, within spittin’ distance of who could quite possibly be Kentucky’s greatest treasure. I had the chance to speak to the man one on one and I didn’t. Which really makes me feel like a horse’s ass the more I think about it. I won’t dwell on things that I should have done in the past. If I get started on that I’m liable to go on and on longer than either of us would wish to participate. We live and we learn, right? Time to move on.
I saw an article yesterday claiming that Wendell will be receiving the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award as picked by the National Book Critics Circle. The award is given annually to a person or institution who has, over time, made significant contributions to book culture. Wendell joins other writers like Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison in winning the award. We as Kentuckians, hell better yet, we as Americans should really appreciate what we’ve got in Wendell Berry. His poetry, his stories (fiction and non-fiction), his essays, novels are all special. There’s a pretty good chance that in the 81 years he’s been alive, he’s written something that applies to or hits close to home with all of us in some way. Wendell Berry’s words will resonate through the minds, both young and old, in this world forever. His stories will always tell a story and the meaning and feeling behind the essays he so passionately writes will always remain.
The lifetime achievement ceremony will be taking place in New York. So, I will not be attending. But if I could, I would do things a bit differently than last time. If I were to somehow get the chance to grab just a moment of his time, whether he was leaving the john again and I had a moment or two to speak to him one on one or if it were just a second or two while I shook his hand as just another face in a crowd of outstretched arms, I think I would tell him, “Thank you.” If I had the time to say more I might but I feel like “thank you” means more than enough without saying too much.
I’m glad to see Wendell Berry getting the credit and recognition he deserves from not only his home state but on a national scene as well. He’s been an inspiration and thought provoker for me and many others and will continue to do so as long as words are read. Just do yourself a favor, if you ever get the chance to meet him, don’t do like I did. Because even though I said I’m not going to dwell on such things anymore, I am.
Cody S. Decker
(photo credit: here)