At the third annual induction ceremony, Berry became the first living author to be welcomed into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, a recent initiative of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, in Lexington, Ky., to honor the diverse and lasting contributions Kentucky writers have made to the literary landscape.
After turning his back on New York, Berry returned to Kentucky, to find, not a state bereft of literary talent, but a cadre of influential writers, such as James Still, Harlan Hubbard, Eugene Meatyard, and Thomas Merton, ready to embrace the Henry County native.
“My point is, in 1964, for a young writer in Kentucky, and in need of sustenance, sustenance was here,” Berry said.
Read more and view video of the complete ceremony at KET
Berry introduced the prince as "our worthy neighbor" and someone who has nearly been alone among world leaders in speaking out about how, just by food choices, industrial economies are "running up a huge ecological debt."
The audience gave Berry a cheering standing ovation. And the prince said Berry "has long been a hero of mine."
Prince Charles plugged an idea called "true-cost accounting" as a solution, where all the costs associated with business activity must be tallied, such as pollution and soil depletion.
He said change can only come with new financial incentives and disincentives.
"We must see we are part of the natural order, not isolated from it," he said.
Your presence among us honors us. We have taken courage from your courage in opposing those who destroy for short-term profit the substance, health, and beauty of this world, which we did not make and cannot conserve except in obedience to its natural laws and to the divine imperative of human stewardship.
You will not be surprised to learn that in Kentucky, as in much of the world, the ways of conserving the land, the water, and the air are repeatedly blocked by the combination of corporate wealth, political connivance, academic complacency, and a deficit of hope where hope is most needed.
Here as elsewhere, the damages done by surface mining are severe, permanent, and largely unrestrained; the loss of land to "development" is, arithmetically, unsustainable; our use of our forests is for the most part ecologically unsound; our farmlands are eroding under an increasing burden of annual grain crops; those lands are priced beyond the reach of aspiring small farmers; and our streams are everywhere degraded by chemical and other pollutants.
But I believe you will be unsurprised also to learn that in Kentucky, as in places similarly exploited and threatened all over the world, there is a growing number of people and groups of people competently aware of, and determinedly opposed to, the diminishment of the natural health and beauty of our state and our world. We are proud to welcome you into the company of friends and allies who, like you, are unrestingly committed to the work of ecological sense and sanity.
In 1989 Mr. Berry spoke at the commencement ceremony for The College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. Here is some of it, with thanks to Terry Heick :
The old problem remains: How do you get intelligence out of an institution or an organization? The question that must be addressed, therefore, is not how to care for the planet but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others.
Our understandable wish to preserve the planet must somehow be reduced to the scale of our competence – that is, to the wish to preserve all of its humble households and neighborhoods.
The religion and the environmentalism of the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something that they do not really wish to destroy. We all live by robbing nature, but our standard of living demands that the robbery shall continue. We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and each other.
It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependent upon what is wrong. But that is the addict’s excuse, and we know that it will not do. I am trying not to mislead you, or myself, about our situation. I think that we have hardly begun to realize the gravity of the mess we are in.
In the spring of 1964,Tanya and I and our children had been living in New York for two years. When my work in the city ended that spring, we loaded ourselves and our belongings into a Volkswagon beetle with a luggage rack on top and took the New Jersey Turnpike south. We were returning to Kentucky — to settle, as it turned out, permanently in my home country in Henry County. On my part, this homecoming cost a good deal of worry. Just about every one of my literary friends had told me that I was ruining myself, and I was unable entirely to disbelieve them. Why would a young writer leave a good job in New York, where all the best artistic life and talent had gathered, to go to Kentucky?
There are no uncontrolled plots” in a person’s life. I have no proof that I would not have done better to stay in New York. But I see that in retrospect my story has gained the brightening of a certain comedy. When I turned my back supposedly on the best of artistic life and talent in New York and came to Kentucky, half believing in my predicted ruin, who was here? Well, among many dear and indispensable others: James Still, Harlan Hubbard, Harry Caudill, Guy Davenport, and Gene Meatyard. All of them I came to know and, I hope, to be influenced by. In 1964 also Thomas Merton was living in Kentucky. I can’t say that I knew him as I knew the others, but I had read The Sign of Jonas when it was published in 1953. Tanya and I, by courtesy of Gene Meatyard, visited Merton twice at Gethsemani and to live here was to feel his presence and his influence. I met Harriet Arnow in, I think, 1955 when I first encountered Mr. Still, at the only writer’s conference I ever attended. Many years later I met her again, spoke to her and shook her hand, remembering from then on her eyes and the testing look she gave me. No book more confirms my native agrarianism than The Dollmaker.
My point is that in 1964, for a young writer in Kentucky and in need of sustenance, sustenance was here. In the fifty years that have followed, the gathering in Kentucky of Kentucky writers has grown much larger. It would take me a while just to call their names: old friends, allies, influences, members, permitting me to be a member, of an unending, enlightening, entertaining, comforting, indispensable conversation. Hy further point is that in 2015, for an old writer in Kentucky and in need of sustenance, sustenance is here. [sic]
Of literary or writerly life in Kentucky I have no worries. It seems lively, various, and dispersed enough to continue, which is all I can presume to ask.
My worries begin when I think of the literary life of Kentucky in the context of the state of Kentucky: a commonwealth enriched by a diversity of regions, but gravely and lastingly fragmented by divisions that are economic, social, cultural, and institutional. These divisions have given us a burdening history of abuse — of land abuse but also and inevitably of the abuse of people, for people and land cannot be destroyed or conserved except together. We all know our history of social and cultural division, from the Indian wars of the 18th Century to legal discrimination against homosexuals in the 21st. And we know how our many divisions, beginning in the lives of persons, become fixed in public and institutional life.
Berry made his way through the room, smiling and shaking hands with colleagues and strangers alike. At 80 years old, Berry is the only living inductee into the Hall of Fame and joined the 18 other members who include authors from Kentucky’s 200 years of rich literary tradition.
“It would need a longer speech than I have for me to tell you what it means to me to be included in the company you have included me in,” Berry said.
Berry stressed the importance of Kentucky writers, the thriving culture and his worries about economic, social, cultural and institutional divisions.
“People and land cannot be destroyed or conserved except together,” Berry said.
Former UK professor Wendell Berry will be the first living person inaugurated into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame on Wednesday, said Jessica Faye Mohler, the marketing and communications director for the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.
The ceremony will be held in the Carnegie Center at 7 p.m. and will include a speech by Berry, as well as five more inaugurations for Guy Davenport, Elizabeth Hardwick, Jim Wayne Miller, Effie Waller Smith and Hunter S. Thompson, according to the Carnegie Center’s press release.
The Carnegie Center is proud to announce the six inductees for 2015 into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, including the Hall's first living writer Wendell Berry. In addition to Berry, this year's class includes Guy Davenport, Elizabeth Hardwick, Jim Wayne Miller, Effie Waller Smith & Hunter S. Thompson.
"This year's Hall of Fame inductees are eloquent, inspirational, and sometimes downright outrageous," said Neil Chethik, Executive Director of the Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning, which created the Hall of Fame in 2013. "All of them have had a profound impact on American Literature."
Chethik said the Hall of Fame organizers were excited to induct the first living writer into the Hall of Fame. "In past years, we honored the pillars of Kentucky Literature going back 200 years," he said. "This year, we wanted to recognize a writer who is still going strong. Wendell Berry's mastery of fiction, nonfiction and poetry -- and the worldwide impact of his agriculture writing - made him the overwhelming choice."
One writer who has influenced countless Americans, including me, turned 80 earlier this year. Wendell Berry has, in fact, been producing a variety of notable books for 50 years—volumes of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Moreover, he has been for decades a major crusader for such relevant matters in our time as sustainable agriculture, community commitment, and nature-based, spiritual-mystery-focused religious belief.
Berry was born in rural Henry County, Kentucky, in 1934. He studied at the University of Kentucky during the 1950s, earning B.A. and M.A. degrees in English, and he later taught there as well. In the mid-1960s he returned to his native place, near Lexington, to farm and to write where his family had lived for generations.
He is very well known for his critique of modern agriculture—a field which now regards our industrial economy as its model and consequently damages the health of the land, destroying rural culture in the process. Berry’s searing critique has been presented in such books as “A Continuous Harmony” (1972), “The Unsettling of America” (1977), and “The Gift of Good Land” (1981), as well as in talks that he has given in many states.