On U. S. theatrical premier of "Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry"

Next Friday (June 30) a film featuring the work of Kentucky’s own Wendell Berry will enjoy its U.S. theatrical premiere at the IFC Center in New York City. “Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” is a cinematic account of the changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America in the era of industrial agriculture, as seen through the mind’s eye of writer, farmer and activist Wendell Berry, an alumnus and former faculty member of the University of Kentucky Department of English.

The first documentary about Berry, one of America’s most significant living writers, “Look and See” was filmed in and around Henry County, Kentucky — where Berry has lived and farmed since the mid-1960s. Filmmaker Laura Dunn weaves Berry’s poetic and prescient words with striking cinematography and the testimonies of his wife Tanya Berry; his daughter Mary Berry, a UK alumna and executive director of The Berry Center; and neighbors, all of whom are being deeply affected by the industrial and economic changes to their agrarian way of life.

Read the complete article by Whitney Hale at University of Kentucky News.


On the Letters and Friendship of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder

Say the names Wendell Berry or Gary Snyder in some circles and you will elicit everything from abject worship to ennui. I belatedly came to awareness of both of them in the late Seventies and early Eighties—Berry for his finely wrought essays and stories (I did not have the maturity to appreciate his poetry then) and Snyder for his poems that were so authentically rooted, many of them, in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. And though I appreciated both writers, and regarded both as exemplars of environmentally conscious writing, it never once occurred to me that they might be friends.

I pictured Berry plowing with mules on his Kentucky farm, and I pictured Snyder in the Sierra, running the ridges like a wolf. I thought of Berry as a student of the Scriptures, working out a biblically based land ethic, and I thought of Snyder as a Beat practitioner of Zen. But in spite of these differences they have been friends for almost half a century, first brought together in correspondence by their mutual publisher, Jack Shoemaker, and kept together all these years through mutual admiration—and sometimes by mutual consternation.

In Distant Neighbors, Chad Wriglesworth has done us the service of collecting and selecting forty years of their correspondence, from 1973 to 2013. In the fall of 2015, I was asked to introduce and interview Gary Snyder at a reading, and I told him before we went on stage that I was halfway through this book. “Wendell and I argued about two things for forty years,” Snyder declared: “Buddhism vs. Christianity, and wilderness vs. agriculture.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Read the whole article by Paul Willis at Education & Culture.


On the Work of the Berry Family and the Berry Center

Mary’s work is steeped in her family’s past in more ways than one. The Berry Center is housed in what was her grandfather’s law office beginning in 1927, an historic building in downtown New Castle. To inform her own practices and the work of the future, important archival work is happening there. Big John was a fervent documentarian. In his career, he kept records of his efforts in law and in farming, as well as proof of the progress and problems around him. His sons followed suit, both continuing to observe the agrarian world where they were immersed. Combined, the efforts of the three offer a keen insight into rural, agrarian life in Kentucky, though much of their work has been lost and scattered in trash bins and forgotten files. But through the Berry Center, their writings are being assembled and organized for pressing work. 

Using the writings of her family members and her own vast experiences, Mary is going to pilot a program she hopes will restore what was lost in her hometown. 

Applying the principles of the Burley Tobacco Program, Mary Berry hopes to make local cattle agriculture thrive. As it stands, Kentucky has the most beef cattle of any state east of the Mississippi. Still, it’s uncommon for family farms to make a living on cattle alone.

The Local Beef Initiative will begin by taking a group of up to six farmers and placing them in a co-op, similar to the one established by the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative. Farmers in the co-op will be required to raise the cows on grass and without antibiotics or hormones, in return for access to parity pricing — achieved by maintaining a relationship with a processor and distributor. 

In this scenario, the Berry Center would play the role that the federal government did in the Burley Tobacco Program, putting mechanisms into place, establishing parity pricing, taking the farmers involved out of competition with each other and preventing them from overproducing. 

“My hope is that once we get the Local Beef Initiative going that young farmers who are involved will say to their friends, ‘You know, I've done this with the Berry Center ... and I've made some money. You should have a look.’ You could convince farmers that way a lot faster than any of us could convince them just going and knocking on their door.” 

Read the complete article by Jodi Cash at The Bitter Southerner.


Actor encourages reading of Wendell Berry

But the film perhaps dearest to Offerman’s heart is the one in which he was least directly involved. Offerman co-produced a documentary about his favorite author, Wendell Berry, called “Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.”

“This is very moving,” Offerman told the audience Tuesday before the screening. “Wendell Berry is my favorite author. I think his work should be required reading, and (if it was), we’d have a lot fewer a------s to deal with.”

Berry, 82, is a celebrated author whose novels, short stories, poems and essays are all devoted to bringing dignity and insight to American rural life, celebrating charity, clarity and the virtue of hard work. He practices what he preaches, having lived most of his life on a small Kentucky farm. He has no television or computer, although he has a telephone, which he often uses to tell people he doesn't want to be involved in their movies.

But Berry eventually agreed to take part in Laura Dunn's terrific, lyrical film. He didn't want to appear onscreen, but his words and his spirit permeate every frame.

Read the complete article by Rob Thomas at The Cap Times.


Whose thought? Wendell Berry's or Ralph Ellison's?

A brief Twitter exchange just now reminds me of an ongoing literary injustice that has bothered me for quite some time. Up until now I’ve just pushed it aside, but it may be time to make some noise about it and perhaps right a bit of wrong.

Here is the exchange:

WB-WS tmtm-twt

The most likely explanation is that Mr. Berry used the line “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are” in the presence of Mr. Stegner, who then repeated it as a Berry original. In fact, Mr. Berry was probably quoting from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (a very memorable and important moment near the end of that great novel).

If you happen to stumble upon this present post here at MWBoK—and you can shed more light on the origins of this problem, please do so.

Here is Mr. Stegner's "Sense of Place" which opens with the sentence in question.


John M. Berry, Jr. (1935-2016)

I offer my deepest condolences to the Berry family on the death of Former Kentucky State Senator John M. Berry, Jr., Wendell's brother. May he rest in peace.

FRANKFORT, Ky. - John M. Berry Jr., the Henry County lawyer and farmer who led the Kentucky General Assembly's fight to become independent from the control of the governor more than three decades ago, died Thursday at his Henry County home. He was 81.

"John had been ill a long time with ill with a heart problem," his brother, author Wendell Berry, said. "I think it's appropriate to say that he died of old age."

"In our different ways John and I inherited our father's interest in farming," Wendell Berry said. "...We were both interested in land conservation and the issues related to that. We were friends and allies for a long time...He was capable, he was upright, he was considerate."

See more at The Courier-Journal.


Wendell Berry on the late Gene Logsdon

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 Berry Supports Senate Candidate

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.


Wendell Berry to be Honored, April 23

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.