5,000 mile journey leads to book of the year award

By Assistant Campus Editor

Grace Wiley
David W. Berner’s memoir titled “Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons” won the 2013 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award.

Columbia’s faculty continues to gain accolades as one of its members recently received a Book of the Year award in the category of nontraditionally published nonfiction from the Chicago Writers Association.

David Berner, associate professor in the Radio Department, received the award from the association for his latest novel “Any Road Will Take You There.”

“It’s one thing when your family or friends look at something you’ve done artistically and say ‘Oh, that’s wonderful’,” Berner said. “But, when somebody you don’t know, from another part of the world or somewhere else, says this work is good, that’s really different.”

Berner’s “Any Road Will Take You There” is a memoir that chronicles a 5,000 mile journey that he took with his best friend and two sons starting in Chicago, and making it all the way from Massachusetts to California. Berner said Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” inspired his journey.

“Even though “On the Road” is just about two men out there together trying to figure out what they’re going to do next, there is an underlying theme in the book of fatherhood,” Berner said. “It’s not very clear, it’s kind of subtle, but it’s there, so it was really easy for me to link all of this together in that way.”

Berner wrote the story in two and half months while participating in a Writer in Residence program at Kerouac’s House in Orlando, Fla. It was the same house that Kerouac was in when he wrote “The Dharma Bums,” Berner said.

“The connections are really just kind of odd,” Berner said. “It is really unique that it all came together in that way, it almost sounds like someone made it up.”

Once Berner had written the book, his agent helped him to search for publishers. Berner said he received 30–35 rejections, but most were “good rejections,” meaning the publisher liked the novel, but could not publish it at that point in time. Becoming impatient, Berner began to explore self publishing.

“I wanted it out there,” Berner said. “I was getting tired of waiting around for it to be traditionally published.”

Chicago authors can submit their work for consideration, said Tori Collins, president of the Chicago Writers Association. The contest had approximately 60 submissions that were pre-screened by a panel of five people, according to Collins. The screeners choose which books they will read and then choose four to five books from each category, which include traditionally published fiction, traditionally published nonfiction, non–traditionally published fiction and non–traditionally published nonfiction. A non-traditionally published book is one that is either self published or partially self–published with outside help. The CWA received about 23 books in Berner’s category, according to Collins.

Barbara Calabrese, associate professor in the Radio Department, said she was ecstatic to hear about Berner’s accomplishment.

“I was so excited for him,” Calabrese said. “[Berner] writes his stuff because it means something to him. His work speaks to us about aspects of our culture.”

Berner said he originally went on this trip to help find his “fatherly DNA.”  Berner said what he got instead was a little more clarity, a book and a Book of the Year Award.

“Any time anybody reads anything that I write and takes the time to give me something on it, I feel very lucky,” Berner said. “There’s a lot that people could be doing out there besides reading my work, they’ve obviously [read it] and it’s really humbling.”

Berner said he plans on publishing a series of essays about pets in the future. He also has a new novel with a working title of, “Night Radio: Love Story.”