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.


Artwork based on Wendell Berry novels

Artist Micah Bell has produced a unique set of prints and writings inspired by the novels of Wendell Berry. They will be available for pre-order beginning tomorrow, November 7. See more information at Micah Bell Art.

The Membership 

$125, PRE-ORDER NOVEMBER 7

  • 8 limited edition art prints by Micah Bell - printed on 100% handmade, recycled paper in an edition of 100. Signed, numbered, and stamped.
  • 8 writings by artists, authors, and musicians based on the featured books and prints: David Dark, Brooke Waggoner, Stu Garrard, Sandra McCracken, JT Daly, Wesley Bates, Flo Paris Oakes, and Robert Campbell
  • 1 writing by Micah Bell
  • 1 Port William logo nickel lapel pin
  • 1 Port William Membership Member keychain
  • All prints are protected in a plastic covering and collected in a custom box adorned with Port William logo designed by Micah Bell

On Wendell Berry's current book and film

WENDELL BERRY CELEBRATED his 83rd birthday in August. He is old. But not so old that he can’t kick and spit and fight every force that threatens to destroy his way of life and, thus, his worldview. “What I stand for is what I stand on,” the seventh-generation Kentucky farmer and urgently prolific scribe wrote in 1980. And, indeed, Berry returns again and again to his hometown of Port Royal (Port William in his fiction). By pledging allegiance to all things local, he has brought global attention to the plight of fragile rural economies and the importance of sustainable agriculture.

In his latest book, The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings (available in November from Counterpoint), Berry continues to rage against machines: the laptops and high-tech tractors he believes are causing us to lose touch with each other and our environments. He laments the “dispersed lives of dispersed individuals, commuting and consuming, scattering in every direction every morning, returning at night only to their screens and carryout meals.”

Yes, Berry’s a bit of a curmudgeon, who likens our smartphone obsession to drug addiction and prefers horse-drawn plows to simulated horsepower. He writes longhand before his wife, Tanya, converts the manuscripts on a Royal Standard typewriter. Such anachronistic tendencies, however, point to more than mere nostalgia—namely, a clear-eyed view of the ways in which modern society is wrecking the Earth under the guise of progress. As the journalist David Skinner noted in 2012, “Instead of being at odds with his conscience, he is at odds with his times.”

See the complete article by Brian Barth at Modern Farmer.


Berry Center Bookstore to celebrate new Wendell Berry publication

Celebrating the release of the book 'The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings' by Wendell Berry and new Larkspur Press titles with readings and art exhibit.

The Berry Center will be hosting its 4th annual open house Saturday, November 11th from 11:00am-5:00pm. This year’s celebration will feature:

• The world premiere of “For the Hog Killing, 1979,” - a collection of photographs by Tanya Berry

• Readings by Kentucky authors, including - Wendell Berry, Bobbie Ann Mason, Ed McClanahan, Gray Zeitz, Frank X Walker, Frederick Smock, Erik Reece, Richard Taylor, Mary Ann Taylor-Hall, Maurice Manning, Nana Lampton, Leatha Kendrick, Sue Richards, Trina Pieffer, and Leslie Shane

• Gray Zeitz, Leslie Shane, and the release of new Larkspur Press books

• Vermont composer and musician, Brendan Taaffe, performing

• Bookbinder Gabrielle Fox with her book, "Larkspur Press: Forty Years of Making Letterpress Books In A Rural Kentucky Community 1974-2014"

• Rollin’ Ruby’s food truck

• Refreshments, books, and unique gifts in The Bookstore at The Berry Center.


The Berry Center is located at 111 South Main Street in New Castle, KY. Street parking is available, and a municipal lot is located behind the Center on Carters Alley. For more information about The Berry Center’s Annual Open House, please contact bookstore manager Virginia Aguilar at virginiaberryaguilar@berrycenter.org or 502-743-1820.


Reviewing "Wendell Berry and Higher Education"

“When professors tell their students the wrong stories, stories of heroic success rather than quotidian faithfulness, it reinforces the boomer mentality of the broader culture,” write Baker and Bilbro. Such narratives, according to Berry, convince “good young people … that if they have an ordinary job, if they work with their hands, if they are farmers or housewives or mechanics or carpenters, they are no good.”

Baker and Bilbro contrast the heady, aspirational virtues of modern academia with what they call “the sticker arts”: the arts of “right livelihood” that focus on stewardship, sustainability, specificity, and love. In so doing, they aren’t just trying to convince students to stay home—they are also encouraging them to make a home wherever they may land. After all, as both Baker and Bilbro acknowledge themselves, Spring Arbor is not their original hometown. Although their vision is to cultivate students who can remain rooted in place, they are also aware that many may move away. But the virtues they present here—stewardship, sustainability, love, loyalty—should not only be applied to our birthplaces. They are deeply needed everywhere. Anywhere boomers have ravaged a community, seeking only to consume and procure, stickers are needed to foster healing and wholeness.

As our country increasingly becomes a fractured republic, a nation divided and splintered, it is such virtues that are most likely to bring wholeness and healing back. “Berry remains convinced that genuine change begins locally rather than in the halls of centralized power,” note Baker and Bilbro. And it is only the sort of vision this volume provides that can bring such change back to the communities that so desperately need it.

Read the complete article by Gracy Olmstead at The American Conservative.


Wendell Berry cited on William Carlos Williams

To Wendell Berry, whose life has been spent in the very different environs of rural Kentucky, Williams’s intense rootedness in place is a major part of his example and legacy. He praises “Williams’ lifelong effort to come to terms with, to imagine, and to be of use to his native and chosen place.” This “local adaptation,” as Berry calls it, has more than literary implications: in the course of the book, it becomes an ecological, economic, and political creed.

Fundamental to this interpretation of Williams is the idea that he and his poetry benefited from being so closely tied to Rutherford. “As a part of the necessary conversation of a local culture,” Berry writes, “poetry becomes more urgently important than it can ever be as a high-cultural or academic specialty.”

Read the complete essay by Adam Kirsch at The New York Review of Books.