From the garden, we went down to the rockbar by the river, sat down, and talked a long time. Our conversation revealed further differences, for we had grown up in different places and different cultures. But we had grown up farming, and with close to the same old ways of feeling and thinking about farming, ways that had come to Gene, I believe, mostly from his mother, and to me mostly from my father. And so our talk that day was full of the excitement at discovering how well we understood each other and how much we agreed. That was the start of a conversation that lasted 46 years and was for me a major life-support. It involved much talking face-to-face, much letter-writing, and phone-calling. It dealt with farming, gardening, our families and histories, other subjects of importance, but also unimportant subjects, and it was accompanied always by a lot of laughter. I have needed his writing, and have been especially delighted by his late-coming fiction, but I have needed even more his talk and his company. Gene was a great companion.
Read the complete piece at Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
Wendell and Tanya Berry, along with Mary Berry and Steve Smith have written a letter to the Louisville Courier-Journal in which they express their support of Democratic U. S. Senate candidate Sellus Wilder. He is running against incumbent Republican Rand Paul. The Berrys and Smith write, in part,
We approve of his platform, which we know that he is offering as a promise to his constituents to try in good faith to do what he has told them he will try to do. We are particularly grateful for his commitment to clean soil, clean water and clean air, though he understands the long-term difficulty of that commitment.
See the complete letter HERE.
American Novelist Wendell Berry will be awarded the 2016 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature this month. The Center for Southern Studies is set to present this prize April 23 in celebration of Berry’s contributions to Southern literature.
A prize presentation will be held April 23 at 1 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room. There, Berry will present the audience with a reading as well as sign books.
“For several years, students who took Mercer’s First-Year Seminar classes read Mr. Berry’s poem ‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.’ In that poem, he exhorts the reader to live freely and love the world. The poem, and Mr. Berry’s life, exemplify many of the ideals that Mercer aspires to uphold, and his prolific career as a writer, poet and activist have thoroughly enriched the tradition of Southern literature,” said David A. Davis, chair of the Lanier Prize Committee and associate professor of English at Mercer.
Se more at Mercer Cluster.
From the Periphery to the Center
When I learned that this award for my life’s work as a writer, so far, would require a little more writing, I began of course to worry about what to say. I thought I would [say] that I am grateful, which I certainly am. I thought I would say I am as grateful as I am surprised, which would enlarge and intensify my thanks. I thought I would say that critics, who help us to enjoy books and to converse intelligently about them, are necessary to the life of reading and so to the survival of civilization. And I thought I should acknowledge my assumption that the literary judgment even of book critics can be wrong, and that my lifetime of writing is by no means singularly worthy of recognition. So much, I thought, would fulfill my two grandmothers’ expectations of decent manners, and so would let me off, as they might have said, with a lick and a promise.
And then I remembered a long-ago review of one of my books along with a book by my friend and ally Wes Jackson. The reviewer said that our two books, one by a rural Kentuckian, another by a rural Kansan, represented an effort by the periphery to speak to the center. “The center,” as I understood it, designated the great urban headquarters of national culture, finance, and politics — “the periphery,” then, being the country itself, the farms, forests, and mines, from which the nation lives, but of which the nation is largely ignorant, which it has too often used wastefully and with small thanks to the people who have done the fundamental work. One reason for the periphery to speak to the center is that it is wrong, because impossible, to divide urban and rural problems into two separate categories. Between country and city the economic interdependence is intimate, whether or not this is recognized by economists. Also many city problems have their origin in the country, and vice versa. Those thoughts settled my mind and forced me to abandon my hope to escape this occasion with an easy politeness.
My writing for fifty or sixty years has been given to regret for the manifold abuses of our economic landscapes, and so to advocacy for kindly treatment of all the lives involved in what Aldo Leopold called “the land community.” If this award to my work signifies it has been read and somewhat approved by literate and thoughtful people of the center, that goes palpably to my heart, and adds a substantial gravity to my thanks. Now I must thank you for encouraging me and my allies to hope that what we have known to be a mostly unheeded appeal from the periphery might at last become half of an actual conversation with the center.
On Thursday, March 17, Wendell Berry was presented with The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle. The presentation speech was made by actor and woodworker Nick Offerman, whose remarks included:
Ladies and gentlemen, to my way of thinking, this exceptional lifetime achievement as farmer, poet, husband, citizen, novelist, neighbor, essayist, father, son, grandfather, pacifist, brother, and fisherman, with the disposition of a philosopher king, would not have so occurred had it not been for two imperative life choices. The first and most consequential of these was of course his marriage to his wife Tanya in 1957. I misspoke when I said that he alone had made his bed, because he and Tanya have tucked in the bedclothes together now for nigh on 60 years. They’ve each been responsible for 50 percent of the bed-making and if there has in fact been any deviation from that ratio, well, that’s their business. They’re still together so they clearly must have hit upon an accord of some stripe. However, as Mr. Berry is to be rightly and fulsomely lauded for the achievements he has compiled, I vowed that his marriage must be cited in the same breath, for in many ways marriage and fidelity are the central themes at the root of Mr. Berry’s life’s work. Literal marriage between two people yes, but also our undeniable betrothal to the natural world and our responsibilities to that bed as well. As he tells us in his essay “The Body and the Earth”: “No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, we can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one’s partiality.”
To read the complete speech, please visit Vulture.com.
I have a friend who claims that Wendell Berry is the nemesis of The New York Times (or, at least, its Science pages) because of his neo-luddite, agrarian tendencies. That may be the case. He certainly is one of the oldest, most prolific and most regularly honored U. S. writers to be inconsistently reviewed by the Times. It's good to see him featured in the Book Review ... and in an issue that also reviews Rick Bass and Jim Harrison.
And yet, a search of the Times shows a fairly broad mention of WB over the years, though there are a few major works (Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter) that don't get any or much attention, as far as I can tell. Overall, it does seem that Mr. Berry and the NYT have been performing a wary dance with each other over time (note the recent "Response to the New York Times Op-Ed"). It was in a full page, multi-column ad in the Times that Mr. Berry first released "A Citizen's Response to 'The National Security Strategy of the United States of America.'"
Maybe some vestigial memory at the Times has not completely forgiven Wendell for the joy he felt when he saw the city shrinking in his rear-view mirror as he and the family moved down the New Jersey Turnpike back to his native Kentucky.
The poet, novelist and environmentalist does not want his biography written. “As the only person who ever has lived my life, I know that most of it can never be documented, is beyond writing and beyond words.”
What books are currently on your night stand?
My father’s much-marked Bible (King James Version), which I keep there for companionship and to read; Volume 1 of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” which I enjoy partly for the luxury of reading in no hurry, for I probably will never finish it; also “Venerable Trees,” by Tom Kimmerer, about the surviving trees of the original savannas or woodland pastures of Kentucky and Tennessee.
Read more at The New York Times.
Two Birds Film, an entity related to the upcoming film The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, has posted an interview by director Laura Dunn with John Berry, Jr. in which he tells the story of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association. Go HERE to listen.
MACON – Mercer University’s Center for Southern Studies will award the 2016 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature to Wendell Berry. The prize honors significant career contributions to Southern writing in drama, fiction or poetry. The prize presentation will take place on Saturday, April 23, 1 p.m., in the Presidents Dining Room of the University Center on the Macon campus.
“For several years, students who took Mercer’s First-Year Seminar classes read Mr. Berry’s poem ‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.’ In that poem, he exhorts the reader to live freely and love the world. The poem, and Mr. Berry’s life, exemplify many of the ideals that Mercer aspires to uphold, and his prolific career as a writer, poet and activist have thoroughly enriched the tradition of Southern literature,” said Dr. David A. Davis, chair of the Lanier Prize Committee and associate professor of English at Mercer.
Read more at Mercer University