A crowd of over a hundred people flooded into the small park that’s at the corner of Broadway and 61st Street in Broad Ripple. It wasn't the sun or the splash pads for kids — it was a deep appreciation for one of Indiana’s great literary minds, Dan Wakefield
The park has been renamed the Dan Wakefield park; appropriate considering its proximity to his — and Senator Richard Lugar’s, who was in attendance — former stomping grounds Shortridge High. The park also happens to be the setting for one of the scenes in Going All the Way
, a novel by Wakefield that was later turned into a movie.*
The ceremony was hosted by Travis DiNicola, the director of Indy Reads. Also in attendance were the former senator, current Indy Mayor Joe Hogsett and Barbara Shoup, the head of the Indiana Writers Center. DiNicola
and Shoup are both regular NUVO contributors,
as is Wakefield who is also a NUVO CVA Lifetime Achievement Award
Shoup noted that the renaming of the park was very special to her since she has lived across the street since 1969.
“He is a wonderful person whose homecoming has made Indianapolis literary life much richer,” said Shoup.
The ceremony seemed to be more than just a naming of a park — it was a reunion of sorts. Wakefield listed at least half a dozen names of old classmates and friends who came to see him cut the ribbon. Sen. Lugar and Wakefield couldn't help but share memories of each other.
“I remember in high school meeting Dick and he asked me to go to his house one day after school,” said Wakefield with a smile. “He took me to his room and I was very impressed … everything laid out neatly on his desk, sharpened pencils, an open notebook. And I went home that night and said to my parents, 'There is a guy in our class who is going to be president.' And my father said 'You mean president of your class?' and I said 'No, president of the United States.' And I am sorry that he hasn't been.”
Lugar explained how he and Wakefield met while working on the Daily Echo
, a newspaper at Shortridge. Lugar went on to tell about his run for junior class president, which he lost, and his run for senior class president, which he also lost.
“My goodness, I was hoping for some break in … [the] contest,” said Lugar. “These were the most popular girls and the most popular boys in Shortridge high school — Dan was of course. He was a very popular boy … I fully expected to be the speaker at our commencement, wrong again, it was Dan. So this was a washout.”
Through the laughs Lugar went onto to phrase one of the most notable things about Wakefield very well — his ability to inspire other writers.
Dan Wakefield Park Dedication
Today, the 61st and Broadway Park was renamed Dan Wakefield Park, an internationally known author and screen play writer. It is very rare that a park is named after someone who is living, so this event was a big deal to the Indianapolis community. Senator Lugar and Wakefield's other childhood and long term friends came into town for this special ceremony in dedication to Dan Wakefield.
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“One thing that I want to emphasize today is that in later years — by that I mean the last 20 or 25 or so — Dan has found a spiritual backing, really an opportunity to take a look at his own faith and likewise to share thoughts with others … ways in which people can come together in a clinic or workshop to be able to express what is deep in their hearts and souls,” said Lugar. “Dan writes about this so well, but so do others though his tutelage and encouragement.”
It was the encouragement and friendship of Kurt Vonnegut that kept coming up in Wakefield’s speech. He noted the review Vonnegut wrote 46 years ago, almost to the day, in Time
magazine of Going All the Way
“He said having written this book Dan Wakefield will never be able to go back to Indianapolis,” said Wakefield. “He will have to watch the 500 mile race on television. It was also one of the few book reviews that ever used the word ‘putrid’ because he said because he was a friend of mine 'I would praise his book even if it was "putrid," but I wouldn't give my word of honor it was good.'” (Note: Vonnegut found it very, very good.)
He went onto say how Kurt was a humanist but would still reserve places in heaven for people he loved, like his wife and his publisher — and Dan’s too — Sam Lawrence who “saved him from smithereens
.” Dan likes to think that Kurt too has a place (in a humanist community of course).
*Dan Wakefield told this editor once — while at the Red Key, naturally — how he was flying back from New York to Indy after Going All the Way came out when the plane had to be grounded due to a bomb threat. It seemed like Vonnegut’s prediction of him not being able to return to Indy were pretty spot on for a while.