Wendell Berry in conversation about local economies

Listen to a conversation between two giants of the local economy movement in this extended episode. Helena Norberg-Hodge founded Local Futures, produced the film The Economics of Happiness, and wrote the book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. Wendell Berry is a poet and activist, an author of over 40 books, and a lifelong advocate for ecological health, the beauty of rural life, and small-scale farming. Their far-reaching discussion touches on human nature, technology, experiential knowledge, agriculture policy, happiness, wildness, and local food systems.

Listen to "Beautiful Places: A Conversation with Wendell Berry" at Local Futures.


An Interview with Wendell Berry about Education

Berry: I was a very good boy until I was in the third grade. And from then on I hated school. 

David: Because you were forced to stay inside?

Berry: Well, I had experienced freedom in the countryside, and to tell you the truth there wasn’t a lot going on in school that was very interesting. But I didn’t like the confinement. I made a lot of trouble, and I didn’t understand the implication of the trouble I was making. The implication was that I was going to get sent to a military school. At 14 I went away to school with my brother, who was a year younger than I. We went to Millersburg Military Institute up in central Kentucky. And I was about as well-suited to that as I would have been to, I don’t know, an assembly line, which in effect it was. And while I was there I had the good fortune to have maybe three teachers who really did something for my education. I received kindness from more teachers than that, from a couple more. There were two curricula: The first was what they intended to teach you, the second was what they didn’t intend to teach you. I learned something from both. But I had a bad attitude that they discovered early. It was defiance. Also I learned just to slip away and go for a walk somewhere. When I got to college, I liked that. There were, oh, half a dozen teachers I found in college who really did affect me. I respected them. The ones I respected the most were the ones who were hardest on me. But they had something to offer, you see. The teacher I had most often in college was Thomas Stroup. He taught Milton. He started me reading Spenser, although he didn’t teach a Spenser class at that time. He read T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” one afternoon in his office, read it beautifully. He kicked me out of class one day and told me in front of everybody, “Your arrogance is exceeded only by your ignorance.” 

Read the whole of "Education Is A Dangerous Thing: A Conversation With Wendell Berry" by David Kern at Forma: A Magazine from the Circe Institute.


An audio interview with Wendell Berry

Back to the Roots is a podcast that aims "to connect people with organic farmers across the country, from Amish country in Ohio and Indiana to farmers on the West Coast." They have just posted a substantial and wide-ranging interview/conversation with Wendell Berry.

See the list of podcasts HERE.

Go directly to the Wendell Berry interview (mp3) HERE.


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.


Laura Dunn interviewed about Wendell Berry film

By way of answering that question: what did Mr. Berry think of the film? Has he seen it yet?

He saw a 20-minute version of the film very early on. I was a little worried that once he saw that he was going to shut the whole thing down, but apparently — I don’t know this from him, but from Mary — it really moved him emotionally. But he also wondered, “Is the argument clear? Could it be clearer?” Those were his two responses, and for me that was good feedback.

To my knowledge, he hasn’t yet seen the full film. The indication is that he will eventually. He doesn’t have a TV, he’s not going to go to a movie theater — God forbid he ever set foot in a movie theater — but we’ve provided him with the means to see it, so I hope he will see it. Tanya and Mary and Steve Smith, the farmer in the film, they’ve all seen it many times now. But Wendell did tell me how much he thought the 20-minute version captures something, and how important that is, and so that’s good enough for me.

Read the complete interview by Daniel Clarkson Fisher at NONFICS.


Q&A with Wendell Berry

Your wife says your principal asset as a writer has been your "knack for repeating yourself." Why keep repeating yourself?

Because things aren't improving out here in this newly discovered rural America. Actually, it was discovered a long time ago by the Republicans and the corporations — the Democrats had forgotten it for quite a long time, and they've just rediscovered it. Forty years ago, I wrote a book called The Unsettling of America. The tragedy of that book is that it's still pertinent. If it had gone out of print because of irrelevance, it would have been a much happier book. In 1977, I thought that the farming population was at a disastrous low. Now it's somewhere below 1%.

Your main concern with economists is that they think commodities can always come from somewhere else.

This has been a dominant idea throughout our history: if you don't have it here, you can get it from somewhere else. If you use up this commodity here, you can't produce it here anymore, you've worn out the possibility here, get it from somewhere else. Or if you're short of labor or you're too good for certain kinds of labor, go to Africa and get some slaves. That recourse has haunted us, has plagued us to death.

Read the complete interrogation by Sarah Begley at Time.


Wendell Berry's reflections on the events of September 11, 2001

This film uses an interview with Mr Berry that was apparently filmed in 2006.

In response to the events of September 11, 2001, Kentucky author Wendell Berry wrote the essay "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear". Appalshop filmmaker Herb E. Smith matched his words with scenes of Kentucky and interviewed Wendell years later about the process of writing in response to crisis and the essay's continued relevancy. This is the first time Appalshop has made this work publicly accessible. KET shares this piece each year to commemorate the events of September 11, 2001.

 The text of the essay "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear" can be found HERE at Orion Magazine.


An interview with Mary Berry concerning Wendell Berry and the Given Life

This new book brings your dad’s work to a Catholic audience. What is your opinion of it?

It’s a really good introduction to daddy’s work for people who haven’t read him. I always think when I read what people have written about daddy, it’s very good. But I hope it leads people to read daddy’s work itself.

The book’s chapters cover twelve themes from your dad’s writings: givenness, humility, love, economics, work, Sabbath, stability, membership, the body and the earth, language, peaceableness and prophesy. Could you boil all of these themes down to one sentence?

The importance of daddy’s work, for me anyway, has been to learn to live within the limits I have—to accept the place I have, the work I do, and to be content within it, and not to be always thinking of another place or thing or some distraction, but to always live the life I’ve got. To put it into a sentence: For human beings trying to live sanely and consciously, part of that is learning to accept today, to accept what it offers and be content with the good work it offers.

The book concludes with an afterword featuring an interview of your dad. What did you take away from his words?

The thing I’m most attracted to in what daddy says is that we’re all complicit—I think Thomas Merton says somewhere we’re all part of the giant sham. I think the thing that’s worrisome to me in my travels and talks, as a left-leaning person, is that people think buying some tomatoes at a farmer’s market is enough. But it doesn’t really mean that much: We’ve got some very basic work to do on how we’re living. To understand how we’re all part of this mess involves making a change in how we live.

Read the complete interview by Sean Salai, S.J. at America Media.


A conversation with Laura Dunn, director of Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry

Sean Malin: Wendell’s performance in the film of his own poem, as well as his narration for The Unforeseen, reflect how learned and clever this writer is. He has this mythology, as you and I have discussed before, that has turned him into a mythic figure. Whether this is just my own projection or a full-blown misunderstanding, it feels to me that his refusal to appear in the film physically is a perpetuation of his personal mythology. What is the mask that he wears with you when narrating for your films?

Laura Dunn: He just does not like film, Sean.

SM: Is that really it? He just says, “That’s not for me.”

LD: Yes. There are a couple of things he’s said real clearly to me. I’ve mentioned this in other interviews, but he believes that the pervasiveness of the screen – film, TV, computer – has contributed to the decline of literacy. He thinks that when you have a picture, your mind doesn’t have to do the work of imagining. When you just have words, your mind has to be activated and you imagine the place, as opposed to just seeing it, which provokes a laziness of the mind. I think he’s got a real point.

SM: Sure, but does that make him scornful of you as a filmmaker? I resent the concept of cinema as a non-literate art. It takes a very learned person to “read” a film completely.

LD: No, he’s not. I agree, of course – it’s your medium and mine – but you are someone who watches films and really analyzes them and really thinks about them. Most people aren’t. Most people are addicted to the medium and want immediate gratification. The pervasiveness of screens is on a continuum with so much of the decline of our culture, in my opinion. People are inside looking at televisions rather than sitting on their front porches visiting with each other.

We’re also talking about someone who is 82, you know? He is not on Twitter, he’s not on social media, he’s not even using a computer. His perspective on the screen is influenced largely by the role that television has played in the changing of community and the backyard. On top of the screen as a problem, Wendell also talked a lot about the problems of idolatry. We live in a time where people want to make idols of individuals. He feels really strongly that he is simply a function of the people that he’s around: his neighbors, and his membership in his community, are primary to his identity and to his values. Living in a little tiny rural community in Kentucky, yet being quite famous, makes it hard for him to just be a neighbor. I think he’s trying to preserve his privacy and his values so that he can simply be another member of his community.

Read the whole conversation at Cinemalin: Film Commentary and Criticism.


A podcast interview with Wendell Berry filmmaker Laura Dunn

Look & See is not a romanticized version of the farmer poet, but an invitation to see the hardship, character, struggle, neighborliness and rooted love that makes up the agrarian lifestyle in Henry County, Kentucky. Laura Dunn and her crew made a generous film. I say generous because Look & See freely gave me space to ask the beautiful question – how then shall I live?

Laura and I talk about Wendell and Tanya Berry’s impact on her life, Wendell’s idea of the union of life and art, marriage as a creative partnership, the unspoken farm crisis and its implications for young farmers today, where she finds hope from the Wendell and Tanya Berry and in her community and why are there so many comedians listed in the end credits of Look & See.

Find and Listen to the interview by Paul Swanson at Contemplify.