Garrison Keillor, a great Democrat, a great writer, a great American and a great entertainer, has been chosen to receive the Steinbeck Award. I cannot think of a better recipient. Any of you who have not listened to Keillor read his book “Homegrown Democrat” are deprived.
In 1996, with the backing of Elaine Steinbeck, the writer’s third wife, the Center created the annual “Steinbeck Award: ‘in the souls of the people.'” That phrase from Chapter 25 of The Grapes of Wrath captures the writer’s enduring legacy as an engaged artist. From the 1930s on he wrote about “the people,” his heart open to the longing, loneliness, despair and triumph of those on the edges. Americans were his people, and his last book, America and Americans (1966) expresses his enduring love for a democratic nation:
“From our beginning, in hindsight at least, our social direction is clear. We have moved to become one people out of many. At intervals, men or groups, through fear of people or the desire to use them, have tried to change our direction, to arrest our growth, or to stampede the Americans. This will happen again and again. The impulses which for a time enforced the Alien and Sedition Laws, which have used fear and illicit emotion to interfere with and put a stop to our continuing revolution, will rise again, and they will serve us in the future as they have in the past to clarify and to strengthen our process. We have failed sometimes, taken wrong paths, paused for renewal, filled our bellies and licked our wounds; but we have never slipped back-never.”
This award is given to writers and artists whose work captures the spirit of Steinbeck’s empathy, commitment to democratic values, and belief in the dignity of the “common man.” Recipients include Bruce Springsteen, John Sayles, Arthur Miller, Jackson Browne, Studs Terkel, Joan Baez, and Sean Penn.
Congratulations to Garrison Keillor !