As the first living author inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, Wendell Berry lamented that many fine books the state’s authors have written about Kentucky issues have had little impact on public discussion or policy.
In most ways, Kentucky is too fragmented a state, Berry said in remarks at a ceremony Wednesday night at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, where he and five writers from the past were inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“This fragmentation is made possible, and continually made worse, by a cloud of silence that hovers over us,” Berry said. “We have in this state no instituted public dialogue, no form in which a public dialogue can take place.
“This public silence ought to be a worry, especially to writers,” he said. “What is the effect or fate, Kentucky writers may ask, of Kentucky books devoted to urgent public issues — 'Night Comes to the Cumberlands' or 'Lost Mountain' or 'Missing Mountains' or 'The Embattled Wilderness'?”
Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, who spoke earlier at the ceremony, said afterward that Berry underestimates the impact of those books and others like them. They may not have led to solutions for Kentucky’s many problems, she said, but things would be worse without them.
Before Berry’s remarks, excerpts from the work of the five deceased authors were read. The standing-room-only crowd that filled the Carnegie Center’s first floor included many writers likely to earn spots in the Hall of Fame someday.
The other new inductees were: Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) of Louisville, who created “gonzo journalism”; Guy Davenport (1929-2005) of Lexington, who during his lifetime won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant; Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960), a black poet from Pike County; Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007) of Lexington, a novelist and critic who helped found The New York Review of Books; and Jim Wayne Miller (1936-1996) of Bowling Green, an author and poet.
Watch for my column Sunday with more notes and observations from the Hall of Fame ceremony.