FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky author Wendell Berry received the inaugural Kentucky Humanities Carl West Literary Award presented in a ceremony Thursday at the Paul Sawyier Public Library in Frankfort.
Presented by Kentucky Humanities, the literary award recognizes an individual who has made a significant impact on the literary culture of the commonwealth.
The award is named in honor of Kentucky journalist Carl West, who established the Kentucky Book Fair and was the driving force behind Kentucky’s premier literary event for more than 30 years.
As editor of Frankfort’s State Journal, West became recognized in Frankfort and Washington, D.C. as an aggressive and intelligent reporter. A native of Campbell County, he studied journalism at the University of Kentucky. West spent time as a Frankfort correspondent for the Kentucky Post and covered the White House and Pentagon for the Scripps Howard News Service. His work in Washington, D.C. and a visit to the National Book Festival inspired West to establish a similar event in Frankfort, and in 1981, the first Kentucky Book Fair was held.
“The Kentucky Book Fair is among the longest running events of its kind in the country,” said Kentucky Humanities Executive Director Bill Goodman. “Much of the credit for the success of the event belongs to Carl West. He believed such an event was important to Kentucky, and we want to continue to honor the contributions Carl made to Kentucky’s literary heritage.
“Wendell Berry has made enormous contributions to the commonwealth’s literary legacy, making him an obvious choice to receive the inaugural Kentucky Humanities Carl West Literary Award,” Goodman continued.
Born in New Castle, Kentucky, in 1934, Berry is a poet, essayist, novelist and farmer. He attended the University of Kentucky, earning a B.A. and an M.A. in English. Berry has taught at Stanford University, Georgetown College, New York University, the University of Cincinnati, Bucknell University, and the University of Kentucky. He is the author of more than 40 books.
Berry has received numerous honors and awards, including a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, Membership in the Fellowship of Southern Writers, the Ingersoll Foundation’s T. S. Elliot Award, the National Humanities Medal, and the 2012 Jefferson Lecturer, to name a few.
Berry and his wife, Tanya Amyx Berry, live on their farm in Port Royal, Kentucky.
In accepting the award, Berry acknowledged many who have “belonged to my own lifetime and memory and ongoing education.”
“I will mention first Elizabeth Maddox Roberts whose novel, The Great Meadow, my mother gave me to read when I was still a boy,” said Berry. “Then I must name the eminent exiles or absentees — Harriette Arnow, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon — whom I began to know by their reputation and work and influence in my college years.”
Details of the nomination process for future Kentucky Humanities Carl West Literary Awards will be available at kyhumanities.org beginning in 2020.
In celebration of what Carl West began, the 38th annual Kentucky Book Fair will be held on Saturday, November 16th at the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission and parking are free.