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Writer Sean Kirst Honored as 'Wisdom Keeper' for Soulful Writing about Syracuse and its People

Tom Honan/

FOCUS Greater Syracuse’s latest Wisdom Keeper was honored for telling the story of the soul of Syracuse.  Columnist Sean Kirst was honored by the group Wednesday night. 

A theme running through many of his stories has been the positive – and even remarkable – things about Syracuse and its people, in spite of so many negative voices.  Kirst calls it: finding the “unexpected narrative.”

“We live in a culture, a community where there’s an expected narrative: ‘this town can’t rise; that child can’t achieve; this street can’t be cleaned up; this person can’t have hope.’  These are limitations placed on us by the bitter, the defeated, the broken who say this thing cannot be done.”

Instead, he found numerous topics to shine a light on the best of Syracuse as: the birth of the literacy movement,  the home of the first national World War One monument, or the quality of life of many of our neighborhoods.  Mayor Ben Walsh issued a proclamation honoring Kirst.  He detailed connections between the two.  Walsh grew up in the same neighborhood where Kirst lives.

“We both share a deep love for our city and a strong belief that Central New York’s best shot for a brighter future is in bringing our community together, much like he’s done here tonight.”

Credit Tom Honan/
Marissa Mulder and Peter Allen performed at the Wisdom Keeper event Wednesday night.

Kirst and others honoring him also spoke of numerous personal profile he has written over the years.  He notes such stories are not always easy to write.

“When I write about people in the rawest of pain, and those stories sometimes have to be told.  A community does not move forward unless you recognize people in pain.  Those stories have to be told.”

He singled out his wife and Vera House’s Randi Bregman as people who could have reflect on such stories to make sure they rang true. 

FOCUS Executive Director Jim Keib remembers Kirst’s writing as being a way he warmed up to Central New York.

“Sean taught me the soul of this town, made me love this town, made me want to stay.  Sean, I often wonder how many people have come and transplanted themselves into this city and stayed because of you.”

Kirst becomes FOCUS’s tenth Wisdom Keeper, following past honorees such as Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons, former S-U Chancellor Nancy Cantor and Doctor Sharon Brangman.

Kirst’s latest book “The Soul of Central New York” includes a number of his columns on the people of the area about whom he has written.