‘I’m going to type every word I know’
By Amanda Higgins, associate editor of The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
and Deana Thomas, manuscript archivist
What do a Kentucky Historical Society research fellow and Nick Offerman (yes, that Nick Offerman) have in common? It’s not just glorious beards!
Offerman and Dr. Richard A. Bailey, associate professor of history at Canisius College and a recent KHS research fellow, have an affinity for Wendell Berry, whose papers KHS is proud to house and make available for researchers.
Bailey is in the early stages of a long-term research project investigating Berry as a prophetic voice in American culture. While here using our collections, Bailey mentioned to us that Nick Offerman is a Berry fan. In fact, Offerman delightfully introduced Berry earlier this month when he received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle. In that introduction, Offerman quipped that he had written to Berry in the 1990s asking for permission to adapt one of Berry’s books into a film. That short, almost throw-away comment led us to look for the letter in our collection. Sadly, we were unable to find that note, but we did find another letter Offerman sent to Berry more than a decade later.
For us, fans of Offerman’s character, Ron Swanson, on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” the letter is so fun because it shows how much of himself Offerman brought to that role. Offerman tells Berry about his woodworking skills – and his quest to build a canoe, his roots on an Illinois farm and his work ethic. What we love about the letter is that it showcases how normal our celebrities can be and how much we as Kentuckians are connected to people and places outside the borders of our beloved commonwealth.
The letter, full of candor and wit, brings together three worlds. In it, we have an actor – soon to be known nationally as Ron Swanson – writing to a Kentucky agrarian about hard work, the importance of teachers and the power of words. For Dr. Bailey and his research, it provides evidence that others see Berry as a prophetic and influential voice in their lives. And for us at KHS, it shows how a collection that appears simply to be correspondence with a Kentuckian has the power to be so much more.
These documents, in the hands of adept and innovative scholars like Dr. Bailey, help us tell Kentucky’s stories to national and international audiences.
And, seriously, who doesn’t love Ron Swanson?