When we think of great writers and where they’re from, we’re likely to think of New York or L.A., or perhaps “The South.” Many great storytellers came from below the Mason-Dixon line. Outside of Chicago, cities in the vast Midwest may not come to mind. In Indianapolis, few writers have become celebrities. Most likely we have our own roster of celebrities, most likely a bank robber or a basketball player – not that there is anything wrong with that. But writers? Not so much. I’m not sure what they thought when Indianapolis born Kurt Vonnegut and his strange relationship with reality and his powerful defiance in the face of convention first blew the lid off by becoming an international literary legend.
We Hoosiers have a hard time identifying with the arts in general, it seems. There is an area in Indianapolis known as Butler Tarkington, partly in honor of the university located there and Indiana writer Booth Tarkington who wrote The Magnificent Ambersons. This was a book and movie set in the city’s Woodruff Place when it was at its grandest. And there is a Riley this and a Riley that, alluding to poet James Whitcomb Riley, known for a kind of folksy poetry children are supposed to like, and sadly stereotypical of what it means to grow up in folksy Indiana, very different from Hoosier Dan Wakefield’s most known work, Going All The Way.
In the last few years, as Indianapolis seems to blossom, the city is finally taking note of its wordsmiths. The city hosts the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. Much more needs to be done. However, in the last few days, the city park at 61st and Broadway has been named the Dan Wakefield Park. Wakefield, now 83, returned to his hometown to work on a book about his good friend, Vonnegut. A comprehensive and worthwhile story about this Hoosier native appeared in this Indianapolis alternative newspaper, NUVO News Weekly.
Congratulations to Dan Wakefield and to Indianapolis, a city that seems to be awakening to its own greatness.