Jim Harris

Rounders, writers, and round-ballers

            Over the last two weeks, I have found myself inadvertently reading and listening to rounders, writers, and roundballers who have a lot to say about the subject of history, which has occupied much of my thoughts over the last two decades. 

            On October 24, I was at the Governor’s Mansion in Santa Fe to attend the 29thAnnual Rounders Awards presented by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

            Then the following Monday, I was in Lubbock for an annual meeting with my cardiologist, Dr. Mohammed Otahbachi, originally of Syria and now of Covenant Hospital.  As it has become traditional for me to spend some quality time in Lubbock’s Barnes and Noble bookstore, I stumbled onto and bought a small book about writing by the Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, a book titled “Inadvertent.”

            Finally, on November 5, I found myself in a packed high school auditorium in Hobbs at a Maddox Foundation lecture listening to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the tallest man I have ever seen, an athletic giant who is described by many sports authorities as the greatest basketball player ever to play the game.  Throughout the program, Abdul-Jabbar sounded to me like he was more interested in the subjects of writing and history than he was in his 20-year basketball career, saying at one point in his talk that his transition from roundball to writing moved him from success to significance.

            I am not sure that is what all of the coaches in the audience wanted to hear from the basketball hero. 

            The Rounders Award was created at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture in 1990 by former New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Frank DuBois.  The purpose of the award is to honor those who “live, promote, and articulate the western way of life,” according to the NMDA website.

            The award was named after “The Rounders,” a classic western novel written by the New Mexican novelist Max Evans, who turned 95-years-old this year and was unable to attend the gathering for the first time in the history of award.

            If readers are not familiar with the term “rounder,” in the ranch community it refers to a drifter cowboy who moves from job to job, tends to enjoy a cold beer, and often has a humorous demeanor.  There are two rounders in the Max Evans novel and in the 1965 movie made from it, the two unlucky cowboys played by Glen Ford and Henry Fonda.

            Max was chosen as the first recipient of the award, and since then two-dozen other writers, historians, and artists have been recognized as Rounders for their part in contributing to and securing the rich culture of the American West.  Your humble local writer of this column was named to the group in 2017 for his work at the Lea County Museum and in writing.

            This year’s recipients are RW Hampton, who lives in Cimarron and Dino Cornay, who lives just up the northeastern New Mexico highways in Folsom.

            RW Hampton grew up in a small Texas town and has drifted across the West working at a lot of cowboy jobs, including punching cattle, breaking and shoeing horses, and even leading trail rides and guiding hunters. Doing most of those jobs he has also spent a lot of time singing cowboy songs, and he has become a popular and award-winning country and western singer.

            As a writer as well as a singer, he has earned awards from The Academy of Western Artists and from the Western Music Association, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2011.

            Dino Cornay was raised in cow country, and since his childhood he drew what he saw and has without any formal training become a well-known artist who positions Western ranch life at the center of his subjects.  He documents human and animal life connected with ranching and cowboying.

            Cornay works primarily in graphite and in oils.  His art has been featured in several prestigious publications, including Western Horseman, American Quarter Horse Journal, New Mexico Stockman, as well as numerous articles and covers of various other publications.

            Despite the fact Max Evans was not able to attend, this year’s Rounders Award ceremony had nine previous winners attending.

            If a New Mexico rounder could live in Norway and write about Scandinavian life, writer Knausgaard would probably be inducted into the group.  He is an award-winning author whose autobiographical novel cycle, “My Struggle,” spans six volumes that have been translated into more than fifteen languages.

            Before it was published as a book, “Inadvertent” was a 2017 lecture at Yale University and delivered at the Windham-Campbell Prize ceremony which Krausgaard received.

            The subject of the lecture “Why I Write” a question Knausgaard finds difficult to answer.  Just a few paragraphs into the book, he writes the following:

            “Literature is not primarily a place for truths, it is the space where truths play out.  For the answer to the question (why I write)—that I write because I am going to die (for example)—to have the intended effect, for it to strike one as truth, a space must first be created in which it can be said.  That is what writing is:  creating a space in which something can be said.”

            He repeats that idea several times: Writing is creating a space in which something can be said.

            Then Krausgaard writes this about all art:            

            “The contradiction between the illimitable that dwells within us and our simultaneous limitation and earthboundness is the driving force behind all literature and all art.”

            I do not know if Kareem Abdul Jabar has ever read any of Krausgaard novels or his little book on writing, but I think it would make for an informative experience to hear the two men talk about the similarities in their lives that appear on the surface to be about as dissimiliar as two lives could be.

            Although both of their names are very prominent in their native countries, the tall African-American and the diminutive Norwegian have had very different careers.  Each studied in university, but Abdul-Jabar’s focus was on the basketball court and took him to a 20-year career in the National Basketball Association. He is 72 years old.

            Born in 1968, Knausgaard did not publish a book until he was almost 30 years old, his focus until then was to attend college to study literature and the arts.

            However, despite their different backgrounds and the 20 years that separate their ages, both of them think now that writing literature and history are what they were moving towards their entire lives.

            I think both of them would fit right in with New Mexico’s Rounders.

            Come to think of it, it would be three generations of writers if Kareem, Karl, and Max could get together to talk about writing. The three of them would have forty or fifty books written on which to base their ideas to help answer the question Why I Write.