Read the Introduction to "Telling the Stories Right: Wendell Berry’s Imagination of Port William"

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks. These are the instructions for telling our stories right, and stories told in this way compel us to tend the splintered light of goodness that shines through the cracks of our wounded world. But even as Hannah [Coulter] so beautifully comes to terms with the limits of her only life, she yet worries. She is unsettled by the thought that she and Nathan may have narrated their seemingly simple lives in a way that encouraged their children to leave: “But did we tell the stories right? It was lovely, the telling and the listening, usually the last thing before bedtime. But did we tell the stories in such a way as to suggest that we had needed a better chance or a better life or a better place than we had?” Hannah is unwilling to answer her own question, though she must ask it of herself—she must live in her uncertainty. She ponders what would happen if someone, “instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, [said] that everything should have been different.” In the end, she knows that such a line of thinking is the “loose thread that unravels the whole garment.” And so Hannah resists a reductive story; she refuses to tug at the loose thread. Instead, despite the imperfect nature of her life’s garment, Hannah learns to weave her narrative in gratitude.

The essays that follow are our giving of thanks, our collective attempt at telling the right stories about life and its fictional representations; they are our efforts to trace some of the narrative threads that hold together Berry’s Port William stories. We have written in hope that our words can elucidate the workings of Berry’s fiction, which makes goodness compelling to so many of his readers. What does it mean to “tell the stories right?” This is a question that haunts not only Hannah and the authors in this collection, but Berry himself.

Read the Introduction in Jeff Bilbro's post at Front Porch Republic


Book Reviews: Wendell Berry and others criticize the environmental movement

As Berry states from the outset, this book, like so many of his others, centers on "the relationship of our lives, and of our communal and economic life, to the lands we live from."

Looming over this relationship is what Berry calls "the ecological, agricultural, economic, and social catastrophe of industrial agriculture." We are still suffering, he argues, from the effects of the mid-20th-century "Get big or get out" agricultural policy.

With the author now in his 80s, a sense of wariness and sadness pervades Berry's writing. Of the healthy agrarianism of Port William, the fictional town about which he's written for nearly 60 years and which is based on his own home, Berry writes that it is "past and gone."

Weighing in on the environmental movement's focus on climate change, Berry is troubled. Though no "climate denier," Berry worries that the single-minded focus of this global crusade has the potential to become a fad, and to overshadow the very real need to stop other forms of environmental destruction on a local level. While Berry of course sees the need for averting climate change, he contends that the effort will little impact the life of rural land and people, which will continue its rapid decline.

Read the whole article by Eric Anglada at National Catholic Reporter.


On Wendell Berry's "The Art of Loading Brush"

In the end, Berry’s mournful story teaches us that it is not utopian, not ridiculous, to insist upon a different economy than a profit-driven capitalism, a different community than one separated by an industrially determined notion of individual freedom from a sustainable and local engagement with the land. It will take time to do, it will be complicated, it will probably not last forever, it will not satisfy everyone, and in the meantime it will have costs. But to take those caveats as proof that a thing cannot be done, that the economic and technological logic of growth is simply and always inevitable, is to blind oneself to a deeper set of possibilities: the possibility of taking collective responsibility for one’s place, emphasizing provision over profit, prioritizing public goods and public safety over corporate balance-sheets, and working out, one bit at a time, in Berry’s words, “a harmonious balance among a diversity of interests.” When it is done right, he concludes, for however long it lasts, “it is a grand masterpiece to behold”

Read "What Wendell Berry’s Brush Teaches Us About Capitalism, Community, and 'Inevitability'" by Russell Arben Fox at Front Porch Republic.


Review of Wendell Berry UK poetry collection

This column is usually reserved for new collections, but there is a reason to break this rule for Wendell Berry. It is extraordinary that he is not better known. I was on the verge of saying he should be a household name, but households have never been his thing. His selected verse, in a new edition by Penguin, is the work of an outdoorsman; it aspires to Gerard Manley Hopkins’s idea that nature is, for all the depredations, “never spent”. This is poetry to lower blood pressure, to induce calm.

Berry’s gift, as a Kentucky farmer and as a writer, is to root himself as a tree might – not to commandeer nature but to cherish it. I do not think it fanciful to see these poems as a form of manual labour – of necessary work. The title poem – his best known – is, at the same time, a secular prayer. The language is slightly churchy, which might not be to everyone’s taste, although there is pleasure in seeing church and meadow come together harmoniously. Berry repeatedly finds a remedy in nature, yet never comes to it in quite the same way.

To read the whole review by Kate Kellaway, go to The Guardian.


Reflections on LoA's first Wendell Berry volume

Significantly, however, the first volume from the Library of America is not a selection of his essays but of his fiction. And indeed it is as a storyteller that Berry is most uniquely able to unite our divided country. His fiction probes the virtues that sustain heterogeneous communities and the vices that threaten them, and reading his stories can help us imagine how we might set to work mending the fractures that threaten our communities. In particular, Berry’s stories bear witness to the redemptive, reconciling power of patient imagination; before we try to convince others of our firmly held convictions, we need to learn how to belong in membership with them.

Particularly in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, many observers have pointed out America's increasingly polarized geography. More and more of us live with people who think like we do, who share our income bracket, and who consume news from the venues we do. Yet Berry doesn't easily fit into any of our major political or cultural tribes. He's not a nationalist or a globalist; he's a patriot. He's not an industrialist or an environmentalist; he's an agrarian. His unorthodox thinking has attracted a broad and diverse readership: you are as likely to find his words in a church bulletin as on a climate-march sign. In spite of his own occasional participation in nonviolent protests, Berry is fundamentally against movements and the fashionable politics of the moment (in 1969 he presciently warned that popular causes in the electronic age almost invariably become fads).

Read the full essay, "Patiently Learning to Belong," by Jeffrey Bilbro at The University Bookman.


Library of America questions Wendell Berry

In advance of the publication of Wendell Berry: Port William Novels & Stories (The Civil War to World War II), The Library of America has posted a Q&A with Mr. Berry.

Library of America: This first Library of America volume presents four novels and twenty-three short stories of the Port William sequence in the order of their narrative chronology—a long arc tracing roughly eighty years of rural American life. What might a reader of your work gain from seeing it laid out in this form, instead of in the order in which it was written?

Wendell Berry: “Might” is the right word here. I know this work from the inside, whereas a reader can know it only from the outside. I know it, or have known it, first in the order in which the parts were written. The whole work “from the Civil War to the end of World War II,” as Library of America has published it, was not written from first to last according to a plan. The order of writing was simply the order in which the parts became imaginable to me. A reader, reading from earliest to latest in the order of history, may know this body of work differently, and even better, than I can know it.

Read the whole exchange at Library of America.


Reflections on Wendell Berry's latest

People like Sir Thomas Howard, Aldo Leopold, and J.I. Rodale were among those sounding the alarm that things weren’t quite right with the increasingly chemically dependent agriculture of their times. Their alarms have continued into today through people like Wendell Berry. After 60 years of writing about such things, his recent collection of essays, The Art of Loading Brush, subtitled, New Agrarian Writings, released in 2017, is proof Mr. Berry has much more to say. The book is an argument for agrarianism as a model for restoring not only nature’s health by caring for it, but in turn, through that same process, restoring the health of rural communities. Care of land requires co-operation, not only with nature, but with each other. In the essay, The Thought of Limits in a Prodigal Age, he makes that argument like this:

As long as the diverse economy of our small farms lasted, our communities were filled with people who needed one another and knew that they did. They needed one another’s help in their work, and from that they needed one another’s companionship. Most essentially, the grownups and elders needed the help of the children, who thus learned the family’s and the community’s work and the entailed duties, pleasures, and loyalties. When that work disappears, when the parents leave farm and household for town jobs, when the upbringing of the young is left largely to the schools, then the children, like their parents, live as individuals, particles, loved perhaps, but not needed for any usefulness they may have or any help they might give. As the local influences weaken, outside influences grow stronger.

Read the whole piece by Josh Retterer at Mockingbird


"Wendell Berry and the Given Life" reviewed

It might be easiest to define this book by what it is not. It is definitively not a biography of Wendell Berry, which is a good thing, considering how often and forcefully he has rejected the idea of a biography himself. (One of my favorite Berry quotes regarding this is from an interview with The New York Times, when he was asked who he would want to write his life story: “A horrible thought. Nobody. 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.”) Sutterfield acknowledges this at the outset as well and offers only cursory demographic information. This book is also not a dissertation-style explication of a single author’s work; Sutterfield generally stays away from literary criticism at all. The book is only 150 pages and written in relatively plain language, which also excludes it from the average critical analysis.

Instead, the mission of the book is laid out early and adhered to well: to cast a cohesive vision of what Berry writes about across the breadth of his work, which includes his poetry, fiction, and essays. Sutterfield does spend some time placing Berry’s work in context, and of course any reader of Berry’s knows how important context – specifically place – is to him and his writing. This is the first book I’ve read, to my memory, of this style; writing exclusively about an author and his work, but not attempting to analyze the work in a typical criticism style. I suspect that Sutterfield – a writer, teacher, and naturalist, who is obviously very familiar with Berry’s work – wrote this book for the same reason I would: he loves the works of Wendell Berry. Berry’s writing is uniquely rich and covers ground that is both narrow in scope and endlessly complex, and Wendell Berry and the Given Life seeks to tease out some of the major themes.

Read the whole review by Brent Schnipke at Relief: A Journal of Art & Faith


Wendell Berry in Spanish translation

Watch With Me and Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née Quinch, Mr. Berry's 1994 collection of seven short stories will be published in Spanish translation this month (December 2017) as Velad Conmigo by the publisher Nuevo Inicio.

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Wendell Berry es un elocuente defensor de la necesidad de la comunidad y de la pertenencia, y del amor a las personas y a los lugares concretos, para que pueda florecer una vida que pueda llamarse verdaderamente humana. La editorial “Nuevo Inicio” intenta publicar sus obras, haciéndolas accesibles al lector español. Ya han sido publicados Sexo, economía, libertad y comunidad (2010); Fidelity. Cinco relatos (2012); La vida es un milagro (2012). Está en preparación una antología de sus ensayos preparada por Norman Wirzba, profesor de la Duke University, con el título de El arte de cuidar de la casa común.

[Wendell Berry is an eloquent defender of the need for community and belonging, and of love for people and specific places, so that a truly human life can flourish. The publisher "Nuevo Inicio" publishes his works, making them accessible to the Spanish reader. Sex, economy, freedom and community (2010); Fidelity: Five stories (2012); Life is a miracle (2012) have already been published. An anthology of his essays prepared by Norman Wirzba, a professor at Duke University, is being prepared under the title of The Art of Caring for the Common House.]

from Nuevo Inicio 


Reading Wendell Berry's "A Place on Earth"

The only book I loved this year was A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry. Although I’d been meaning to read his fiction for years, I started this book (according to my Goodreads activity) the day after my sister’s diagnosis. I had some idea that reading about a small farming community in Kentucky, written by the octogenarian poet-farmer-essayist-novelist Berry, would be comforting. I had no idea how deeply I’d identify with the character of a 60-year-old tobacco farmer.

All of Berry’s fiction—a smattering of novels, novellas, and short stories—take place in the same fictional town of Port William, Ky., which is based on Berry’s own hometown. It’s a small town, and each work focuses on a different family or generation or set of friends, so that reading them as a whole brings the entire interconnected community to life.

Read the complete article by Janet Potter at The Millions.