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.


On Wendell Berry's idealism and reality

It would be years before I learned to appreciate rural places in their complexity, to see their beauty without sacrificing their reality.

Because, like most rural communities, my small town is and was a complicated place. The rural communities I serve now are just as complex.

There might be rolling fields of produce, but they employ fewer and fewer people. People are friendly, but often only after a long initiation (my parents bought our house in 1989, but my father is still not considered a local). And in an age where fear is the dominant political language, suspicion of the stranger can twist strong community ties into an impenetrable knot.

Berry, of course, recognizes that the communities he writes about aren’t simple. In several of his essays in “What Matters: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth,” he insists on understanding the complexity of an economy and rebukes the fantasy of simple solutions.

In his work, I catch glimpses of the places in which I’ve served and lived. Berry knows about and portrays this other version of rural. But he doesn’t linger in the grittiness of it before moving back to the ideal.

Read all of "Why I hate Wendell Berry" by Allen T. Stanton at Faith & Leadership.


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


Essay on Wendell Berry's fiction published

“Theological Voices in Wendell Berry’s Fiction” by Jane M. Schreck, professor of English at Bismarck State College is published in the current number (volume 21, issue 5) of Religion and the Arts from Boston College.

According to Dr. Schreck, "The article examines the theological thinking Berry articulates in his essays and aligns his ideas with those expressed by characters in his short stories and novels."

[Correction: A previous version of this post misspelled Dr. Schreck's name.] 


On Wendell Berry, Options, and Fatherhood

And while farming is not really an option for most, I do think that it is in our work that we men, as fathers, can have the greatest impact on how our lives unfold in more human ways into today’s societal environment.   We long for our “vocation” and our “work” to be the same thing, which is actually another common thread in Berry’s work, because, especially for the laymen, those things ought to be united in the common idea of “economy” – the union or meaning, work, place, and home.  Berry’s idea holds a fuller understanding of vocation than either the typical Catholic or secular society does.  “Vocation,” to many Catholics, means the overarching “state” of religious, clergy, or lay that a person is called to. “Vocation” in secular society means your trade, generally, but one merely chosen and trained for.  But to Berry, vocation is that particular state that includes a “thing” you make because we were made to make, and this he presents in contrast to a mere “job”, which is had for the sake of money alone:

“[Vocations] are specific kinds of work to which [people] are summoned by God or by their natural gifts or talents.  The kind of work may be cabinet-making or music-making, cooking or forestry, medicine or mechanics, science or law or philosophy or farming – any kind of work that is whole…  A “job,” by contrast, is understood as any work whatever that one can earn money by doing…” (Wendell Berry, The Art of Loading Brush, 79).

Read the complete essay by Jason Craig at Catholic Exchange.


A Profile of Tanya Berry

That’s the home Tanya Berry has made, in a rural community that endures — at least for now — because of people like her. Over those years, she has honed skills in farm work and the domestic arts, while serving as perhaps the most important fiction editor almost no one has heard of, married to one of the most important American writers almost everyone knows.

All this started more than a half-century ago with her leap of faith that an artsy city kid could learn, from scratch, what was needed to make a farm home. She grew up mostly in California, moving around often, and the early years of their marriage took them from Kentucky back to California, then to Europe and New York — part of what she once assumed would be a cosmopolitan life with a writer and academic.

But Wendell wanted to go home, and Tanya wanted to put down roots somewhere.

“He needed to be home, and I was flexible because I didn’t belong anywhere in particular. So, I took this on with him,” she says. “It’s not always been perfect. None of it has been perfect. But it’s been right. It’s been the right thing.”

Read the complete essay by Robert Jensen at Yes! Magazine.


Reflections on the Wendell Berry documentary

I was introduced to the agrarian world of the writer, Wendell Berry, in my intro to philosophy class in college. I have been an avid reader of Berry ever since. His novels, essays, and poetry, have been a rich source of comfort, hope, and rebuke in my life.

There is something to Berry’s writing that I am drawn to. He carries a degree of elusivity that requires constant unpacking. It contains a truthfulness that I am not always able to exhaust. His prose are beautiful and turns of phrase poignant. His characters are rich and their relationships dense.

Last night, I went with my wife and a few friends to watch the film, Look and See, which is a documentary portrait of his life. There were two moments in the film that brought me to tears and put words to unexpressed elements of my attraction to Wendell’s writing. I want to share them quick before I write a longer post reflecting on the film as a whole.

Read the full article by Kris Rolls at Being-in-the-World.

 


Conversation about Wendell Berry

Ragan Sutterfield discusses Wendell Berry's work and ideas with Nathan Foster in this Renovaré podcast.

Wendell Berry is the kind of writer that when you read his work it can change the way you live. Ragan Sutterfield, author and Episcopal priest in training, talks this week about Berry, sabbath, and permaculture—working with God’s order instead of manipulating the world to our own ends.


Solving the Wendell Berry/Ralph Ellison quotation mystery

Dear Quote Investigator: The nature writer and activist Wendell Berry has been credited with a statement about knowing one’s place in the world:

If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.

Yet, this saying has also been ascribed to the novelist and critic Ralph Ellison. Would you please help clarify this situation?

Quote Investigator: In 1952 Ralph Ellison published the landmark novel “Invisible Man”. During one key episode in the book an old gentleman approaches the narrator to ask directions. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Perhaps to lose a sense of where you are implies the danger of losing a sense of who you are. That must be it, I thought—to lose your direction is to lose your face. So here he comes to ask his direction from the lost, the invisible. Very well, I’ve learned to live without direction. Let him ask.

As the forgetful gentleman approaches, the narrator recognizes him as Mr. Norton who has asked for directions in the past, and the two converse:

“Because, Mr. Norton, if you don’t know where you are, you probably don’t know who you are. So you came to me out of shame. You are ashamed, now aren’t you?”

“Young man, I’ve lived too long in this world to be ashamed of anything. Are you light-headed from hunger? How do you know my name?”

Read the complete article at Quote Investigator.


Wendell Berry and others inspire songs

The Vision was inspired by a powerful poem written by Wendell Berry that speaks deeply to my feelings about the earth, in all of its destruction and possibility. Upon meeting Wendell two times at his farm, I was amazed at how comfortable I was sitting with him and his amazing wife Tanya. I enjoyed his simplicity and how he cuts to the quick with no hesitancy or apology.

I looked this poem over and again the words that would become a song came to me and I arranged it without much effort. I usually channel poetry arrangements, but since Wendell is alive and well, I wanted to honor him and what I perceived to be his intention as clearly as I could. I did work on it more than other poems, nonetheless, it pretty much arranged itself.

I tend to select poems, melodies, and arrangements that are complex and a bit gut-wrenching and hard to sing. This one takes a lot of air! It also takes a bit of courage to sing because of the state of the world. I love the harmonies John and I do on this one.

Listen to the music and read more by Donna and John Paul Wright at The Thread in the Quilt.