On the Recent Wendell Berry Collection and Conversation

Wendell Berry, an avid environmentalist himself, is not opposed stirring the pot. He just released a book of essays optimistically titled The World-Ending Fire and is the subject of a documentary produced by Nick Offerman — yep, that Nick Offerman — called Look and See, neither of which pull any punches. But any idealistic or rhetorical blow proffered aside, Berry isn’t one to engage eagerly without putting serious thought into solutions first. Something I have been noticing over the last few years of his work, interviews, and lectures is that he seems to be in a sifting, distilling season of his life. Now in his 80s, Berry seems to be even more thoughtful (if that is possible), listening closer, speaking clearly yet humbly. We also do the same with him, increasingly mindful of the shortness of days.

Read the compete article by Josh Retterer at Mockingbird.


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.


Reading Sutterfield's "Wendell Berry and the Given Life"

Sutterfield synthesizes Wendell Berry’s writings and his vision that our world and our life are gifts to be lived in and through a moral compass focused on ‘the other’, our neighbor. Much of the book fitted neatly with my Benedictine experience of living a virtuous life in a world often neglectful of those spiritual principles.

There is the humility of our creatureliness that comes through a reflective wisdom of interdependence, as Berry says “…that is born from soil…and home.” As Sutterfield’s essays highlight, Berry emphasizes the importance of stability and community of place.

We have come, as Elizabeth Scalia has written, to a generation of strange gods, where ‘virtual community’ is only one step away from imaginary. Sutterfield’s book reminds us of Wendell Berry’s conviction that we are designed to reach out—in our place, whether city dweller or along farm lanes—and touch our neighbor, our land, and embrace our Lord within the creation we were given.

Read the whole review by Margaret Realy at Morning Rose Prayer Gardens.


New Wendell Berry collection for October 2017

Wendell Berry’s profound critique of American culture has entered its sixth decade, and in this new gathering he reaches with deep devotion toward a long view of Agrarian philosophy. Berry believes that American cultural problems are nearly always aligned with their agricultural problems, and recent events have shone a terrible spotlight on the divides between our urban and rural citizens. Our communities are as endangered as our landscapes. There is, as Berry outlines, still much work to do, and our daily lives—in hope and affection—must triumph over despair.

Berry moves deftly between the real and the imagined. The Art of Loading Brush is an energetic mix of essays and stories, including “The Thought of Limits in a Prodigal Age,” which explores Agrarian ideals as they present themselves historically and as they might apply to our work today. “The Presence of Nature in the Natural World” is added here as the bookend of this developing New Agrarianism. Four stories from an as-yet-unfinished novel, better described as “an essay in imagination,” extend the Port William story as it follows Andy Catlett throughout his life to this present moment. Andy works alongside his grandson in “The Art of Loading Brush,” one of the most moving and tender stories of the entire Port William cycle. Filled with insights and new revelations from a mind thorough in its considerations and careful in its presentations, The Art of Loading Brush is a necessary and timely collection.

UPDATE 6/25/17: This collection is now titled (somewhat ominously) The Order of Loving Care: Last Agrarian Writings.

See more information at Counterpoint Press.


Wendell Berry Fiction to be added to Library of America

Three new authors (including one living one), two returning favorites, and a pair of groundbreaking anthologies are just some of the highlights of Library of America’s list in the first half of 2018. Below is the list of publications for next winter and spring, followed by more detailed descriptions of each new volume.

LIBRARY OF AMERICA SERIES

Wendell Berry
Port William Novels & Stories
The Civil War to World War II

Nathan Coulter • Andy Catlett: Early Travels • A World Lost • A Place on Earth • Stories
Jack Shoemaker, editor
Library of America #302 / ISBN 978-1-59853-554-9
January 2018

The Library of America


A Review of "Wendell Berry and the Given Life"

If I could, I would thrust a copy of Wendell Berry and the Given Life by Ragan Sutterfield into the hands of everyone I know. Here’s why:

Sutterfield’s book is a terrific introduction to an esteemed man of letters. Wendell Berry is a poet, novelist, essayist, conservation activist, and pioneering agrarian who advocates for sustainable agriculture. Thus Berry is a man whose legacy is equally remarkable for his literary writings as well as for his pioneering work and continuing leadership in the field of responsible agrarianism. If you patronize local farmer’s markets, or if your default setting inside grocery stores is to choose local organic produce, then you have Wendell Berry to thank.

Sutterfield maintains that Berry’s work is important because it speaks to our moral integrity at the same time as it addresses our mortal future. You might say that Berry is Rachel Carson 2.0. Berry brings science, generations of farming history, startling literary brilliance, and a deeply Christian point of view all to bear on discussions of the conservation crisis. On one level, it is crucial for more people to hear Berry’s clarion call to rewind our culture, to back away from industrialism, purely in the interests of survival. On another level, Berry speaks to our moral culpability in the ruination of families, communities, and the planet as a result of our failure to obey the most basic of God’s directives to love thy neighbor.

Sutterfield argues that Berry is a sage, a lamenting prophet who connects the dots between how we live and the state of our souls. Was this what God intended when he handed over his creation to us? Is this the role we were meant to play as caretakers? Sutterfield distills a diverse body of work published over the course of nearly sixty years; in so doing, he performs the invaluable service of making the ideas of a great Christian thinker more accessible to a wider audience.

Read the whole review by Maura Zagrans at The Catholic Book Blogger.


A Review of UK Wendell Berry Essay Collection

For more than 50 years, Wendell Berry has invited people to think more intelligently about the suicidal stupidity of progress defined by limitless growth. He powerfully reminds us that this is the root cause of today’s environmental crisis, and that the manifold efforts being made today to tweak that model of progress or mitigate its increasingly destructive externalities are almost certainly doomed to failure.

One of the most critical of these externalities is the loss of soil. Paul Kingsnorth says in his excellent Introduction:

“Again and again, Berry worries away at the question of topsoil. This is both a writer’s metaphor and a farmer’s reality, and for Wendell Berry, metaphors always come second to reality. ‘No use talking about getting enlightened or saving your soul,’ he wrote to his friend, the poet Gary Snyder, in 1980, ‘if you can’t keep the topsoil from washing away.’ Over the last century, by some estimates, over half the world’s topsoil has been washed away by the war on nature that we call industrial farming.”

Berry’s credo is simple: “What I stand for is what I stand on.” Everything starts and ends there, on the small farm in Kentucky that he’s looked after since 1964, in the power of the local economy and culture, in the twin imperatives of “neighborhood and subsistence”.

Read the whole article by Jonathon Porritt at Resurgence.


Review of "Wendell Berry and Higher Education"

Two literary critics take the writings and speeches of Wendell Berry as a touchstone for a critique of higher education. Each chapter follows a tight structure: an analysis of Berry’s fiction; discussion of how the themes of his fiction apply to higher-education reform; practical suggestions for students, instructors, and administrators; and an excerpt from Berry’s poetry that brings each chapter to a close. The book’s first three chapters, which together encompass the book’s first part, titled “Rooting Universities,” possess both charm and utility. They describe a new vision for higher education, one in which imagination and context trump specialization and fragmentation, attention is given to logical language that eschews jargon and is inclusive of all types of people and ideas, and the benefits of physical work contribute to intellectual development.

Read the complete review at Publishers Weekly.


A Review of "Wendell Berry and the Given Life"

Here then, are my thoughts on Wendell Berry and the Given Life by Ragan Sutterfield. 

This attractive and unintimidatingly light volume lives up to the description I was given. It is, indeed, a book interested in drawing out the spiritual themes and ideas strewn throughout the work of a long and productive lifetime. Sutterfield has done his research, and excerpts from Berry’s writings liberally pepper the pages of this book, which is itself divided up into thematic chapters addressing different aspects of Berry’s thought: Givenness, Humility, Love, Work, Membership, and so on. There are so many wonderfully expressive and thought-provoking Berry quotes in each chapter that my reading was drastically slowed by the repeated compulsion to set Sutterfield’s writing about Berry down to hunt down the cited essays and works and read the quotes passages in their original contexts.

Read the whole review by Kate Cousino at Peace and Pekoe.


Wendell Berry answers some questions

Ragan Sutterfield asked Wendell Berry six questions. Here are two of them.

The idea that our lives are “given” comes up often in your writing. What does it mean to be given? How does it change how we live in the world?

I use the word “given” in reference to this world and our life in it. Two things are implied: first, that we ourselves did not make these things, although by birth we are made responsible for them; and, second, that the world and our lives in it do not come to us by chance.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux once wrote: “The way is humility, the goal is truth.” Your own work reflects a similar understanding. How does humility help us recover the truth about the world and ourselves?

If you think, as I do, that the truth is large and our intelligence small, then a certain humility is implied and is even inescapable. As for my own humility, I am not very certain about the extent of it. I know that I had my upbringing from people who would have been ashamed of me if they heard me bragging on myself like a presidential candidate, and I am still in agreement with them. However, I seem to have a good deal of confidence in the rightness of my advocacy for good care of the land and the people. Without that confidence, I don’t think I could have kept it up for as long as I have.

Read the other four questions at American Catholic Blog. The complete interview can also be found in Ragan's very good book, Wendell Berry and the Given Life.