By Randy Fiedler
Kevin Gardner, Ph.D., chair and professor of English at Baylor University, is the first American to win an international award for his scholarship into the works and legacy of acclaimed British poet Sir John Betjeman.
Gardner is the winner of the 2020 Betjeman Society Award, which was established in 2019 by the Society to recognize the “person, group or organisation which in the opinion of the Council has made the most significant recent contribution to the understanding, or enjoyment of the life and work of Sir John Betjeman.”
Betjeman was a poet, broadcaster and journalist who served as the United Kingdom’s Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984. Besides producing many volumes of poetry, he was a familiar sight on British television, often advocating for the preservation and appreciation of historic churches and Victorian architecture. Betjeman’s biography on the Society’s website says that he was “one of the most amusing writers in English and perhaps his greatest gift was for satire of the middle classes.”
Gardner is the author or editor of five books that deal with Betjeman’s life and work, including
"Betjeman: Writing the Public Life" (2010) and his latest Betjeman work, "Harvest Bells: New and Uncollected Poems" by John Betjeman (2019).
The original plan was for Gardner to receive the award at the Society’s annual meeting in May 2020, but the event was canceled because of COVID-19 virus concerns. Instead, members of the Society used online meeting technology to join with Gardner in an international ceremony via Zoom on Sept. 4 and present him with the award.
“It’s extremely exciting that this second ever Betjeman Society Award is a transatlantic transaction,” said Lance Pierson, chairman of the Society, during the virtual ceremony. “We’re so delighted to have a strong link with Kevin Gardner as one of the foremost John Betjeman scholars in the world today.”
The citation that accompanied the award said, “The publication of 'Harvest Bells: New and Uncollected Poems' represented the culmination of Kevin Gardner’s dedicated and painstaking scholarship researching the archives of John Betjeman papers…[the book is] the most significant publication of the works of John Betjeman for many years, and adds immensely to our understanding of the poet’s life and work.”
The award statuette is a smaller version of a famous statue of Sir John Betjeman that stands inside the Victorian-era St. Pancras railway station in London, which Betjeman played a pivotal role in saving from demolition in the 1960s.
During the virtual award ceremony, Gardner said, “It is a deep honor to receive this award. I’m very proud of it, and…I am humbled by the Betjeman Society’s appreciation of my efforts to bring scholarly attention to the work of John Betjeman.”