When Writers Become Icons


kesey 004 Authors celebrate successes in many different ways. Debut writers take pictures of their books on shelves of libraries and bookstores. Award-winning novelists hang their plaques alongside framed novel covers. Others attend the movie premiere of their story. Some are honored by citizens of the city or setting the author used to tell the tale.

Such was the case last weekend when residents of Springfield, Oregon honored their hometown literary hero, Ken Kesey, with a block party and the unveiling of a two-story mural. Mayor Christine Lundberg said the idea to embrace and recognize the man’s accomplishments had been in the works for a while, and received widespread support from the community as a project whose time had come.

Kesey is the author of Sometimes a Great Notion and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, two novels which were both made into movies. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest released in 1962, the material related to Kesey’s time as a volunteer in a study of psychoactive drugs and his work at a state veterans’ hospital. Both experiences were said to have inspired the novel. He published Sometimes a Great Notion in 1964, using a small Oregon logging town as a backdrop for the story.

Kesey attended Springfield High School and wrestled for the University of Oregon before an injury ended his career. He then went on to write. Kesey’s allegiance to his hometown was evident in the way he nostalgically described landmarks like the Springfield Creamery, an enterprise still operating today. He also made reference to days of picking beans in the summer, and swimming in local rivers, as well as flavoring his settings with scenes from the timber industry which supported many Oregon laborers for years.

In the mural Kesey leans against a bookcase, which holds dozens of classic titles, and stares into the distance. A model of his historic bus, FURTHR, and license plate, occupy the bottom shelf. Probably most telling of Kesey is a plaque of Job 5:7 in the corner: “But man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” In scripture the verse is followed with “But as for me, I would seek unto God. And unto God I would commit my cause.”

According to Kesey’s daughter, Sunshine, who attended the festivities, Kesey’s greatest wish was to inspire people to read. They might not only learn his story, but also the classics. This may have been his greatest contribution. Kesey has made quite a splash in this modest Oregon community. He leaves big shoes to fill.

Author’s note: If you are ever in town, drop by Fourth and Main for a look.

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