When Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu takes the time to read and review a book, the book automatically becomes important – even if it is just a little book about a cow.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has had a busy month. A sample of the events and to-do’s that were entered on Archbishop Tutu’s calendar in the past 30 days includes:
• Protest death penalty punishments for gay sex in Uganda.
• Help launch book co-written with my daughter.
• Autograph soccer ball for “Kick Polio Out of Africa” campaign.
• Be global patron for World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour event.
• Do interview on CNN with Christiane Amanpour.
• Design limited edition sweater to raise money for Tutu Peace Center
• Speak at Springfield Symphony Hall about public health awareness / accept honorary degree from American International College and the Medical Knowledge Institute.
• Write article about my childhood tuberculosis to launch campaign for the UK Coalition to Stop TB.
• Travel on maiden voyage of Queen Mary 2 between Port Louis and Cape Town.
• Back international sanctions against Myanmar.
It’s difficult to imagine that one person – no matter how powerful and influential – could be involved in so many important world events in such a short period of time. When you are a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a world leader, though, there isn’t much room on your calendar for trivialities.
So when one more entry made it onto Archbishop Tutu’s calendar recently – Read “Etre the Cow” book and write review – no one was more humbled and amazed than the book’s author, Dr. Sean Kenniff.
“When somebody like Archbishop Tutu, who has walked the walk and changed so many lives says that my book has a lot of merit and could mean a lot to a lot of people, it’s really a prize in and of itself,” said Kenniff after receiving Tutu’s review and endorsement of “Etre the Cow.”
It probably wouldn’t have mattered to Kenniff what the Tutu review of his first published book had actually said. The fact that “Etre the Cow” had made it into the hands and onto the calendar of the one of the world’s most influential leaders was an honor in itself.
“If the book doesn’t sell one copy after the review from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, then I’d be okay with it,” Kenniff said.
In fact, Tutu’s response to “Etre the Cow” was something that Kenniff could never have imagined when he was hanging out in the cow pastures of south Florida penning the manuscript. “I wrote a little book about a cow. It has a deeper meaning to it. That’s it,” Kenniff says. But when Archbishop Tutu read the “little book about a cow,” this is what his review of the book was:
“Être the Cow is one of the most important books written in a generation. Être’s fight for freedom and dignity is a fight for life itself. Sean Kenniff’s Être the Cow depicts a very human struggle–and it’s a story I won’t soon forget.”
“To have Archbishop Tutu say my book is one of the most important books written in a generation, that just means the world to me,” Kenniff says, still awestruck by the Archbishop’s review and endorsement several weeks later.
The little book with the big message about the meaning of life that caught Tutu’s attention is something that Kenniff didn’t plan, and it’s something he wasn’t sure was even a book at all. After losing his job due to recessionary cutbacks, Kenniff was driving home with his pink slip by his side. He stopped his car at one of the many pastures that he had passed on his daily commute to the job he no longer had, and it struck him almost immediately that he had a lot in common with the cows he was observing. After being put “out to pasture” by his employer Kenniff felt like he was an insignificant part of the food chain, with little purpose, and absolutely no control over his destiny.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, the first day of Kenniff’s new writing career began on his last day of corporate employment. He spent months observing the cows, chronicling their lives, and drawing parallels between their existence and his own. The result was a story about existential crisis and the meaning of life that Kenniff wasn’t convinced would have impact on anyone but himself. At the very least, Kenniff was grateful that the immersion in his bovine adventure had allowed him to purge himself of the shame and powerlessness that sudden unemployment had caused him to feel.
Although Kenniff had doubted the value of his “little cow book,” the story was engaging, the message was powerful, and he was offered a publishing contract very quickly. That was a big enough accomplishment for a previously unpublished, out-of-work medical reporter.
So, how, then, did a first-time unknown author get the 144-page book with the cow hide cover into the hands of a Nobel Peace Prize winner? Much like the creation of the book itself, it’s a strange and unlikely story. Kenniff recalls that the Tutu endorsement happened this way…
“We contacted the American office for the Tutu Peace Center. We also sent it to the South African branch. They wanted a personal letter, and I wrote it. I still didn’t hear anything back.”
“And then, by pure or divine coincidence, one of my friends happened to be sitting next to Archbishop Tutu at a show in Miami. She didn’t know that I was trying to get him to endorse my book, but she happened to text my girlfriend, and my girlfriend told me about it.”
“I drove to the show in the middle of the night. I couldn’t find a parking spot, had forgotten my wallet at home, and didn’t have a dime. I ran a mile and a half, and couldn’t get in through the box office. I snuck around back, went between two generators, pulled open a backstage door, ran up the steps, and asked one of the security guards to personally deliver the book to Archbishop Tutu. And that’s how it happened.”
A few short weeks after that, Kenniff was reading that one of the most influential leaders of a generation thought that Etre the Cow was one of the most important books of a generation. “I really thank him and I thank God for making it happen,” Kenniff said.
After receiving Tutu’s glowing endorsement, Kenniff is finally convinced that his book is really a book, and that it will have value to those who read it. “It’s a book about a cow that’s not really about a cow,” Kenniff says. “It’s a book about being fenced in and powerless over your life like a cow. It’s a metaphor or allegory about something larger that’s being experienced by a lot of people nowadays.”
It’s difficult for Kenniff to get much more specific than that when describing his meaning-of-life book. “Everybody gets something different out of the book when they read it,” Kenniff says. “One thing is sure… You’re not going to learn a lot about cows from this book.”
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