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.


UC Interview with Wendell Berry

Too many of us spend too much time indoors, in front of screens, away from nature. Yet, there’s a consistent sense of wonder about nature in your writing. Can you suggest ways to nurture a stronger sense of Creation care?

A I am sure that the children of my generation benefited from their free roaming — without adult supervision — in the woods and fields. I am sure that we learned a great deal about the natural and practical life of work by playing, and then later working, in the company of other adults at work. 

Now, I seldom see children or young people outdoors. This seems attributable largely to screen addiction. But also, work itself has changed since the time of my childhood. It has become too mechanical, too toxic and too hurried to be congenial. 

You write, “Find your hope . . . on the ground under your feet,” reflecting the idea of acting locally. However, in the face of vast environmental threats, can there be enough local action to bring about the dramatic changes we need?

A I’m not sure. I am only sure that great problems cannot be solved by great solutions. No government, no church, no religious denomination is capable of performing an authentic act of stewardship equivalent in scale to the Normandy invasion or the bombing of Hiroshima. The utterly intractable truth of the matter is that the world is made up of a mosaic of small places, each one unique and, in significant ways, unlike any other. To be capably stewarded or husbanded, each of these places must be known and loved, and therefore possibly known by some particular human with the intelligence, knowledge and skill to use it responsibly. The responsibility pertains to the place itself, and to the humans and other creatures who live on and from it now and forever afterward.

See the interview by Murray MacAdam at UC Observer.


Nick Offerman reflects on Wendell Berry

In about 1995 I was doing a production of Sam Shepherd’s play “Buried Child” at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago; specifically I was hired to understudy Ethan Hawke. And I was also working as a makeup artist on the show, putting old age makeup on the venerated late American actor named James Gammon. Another actor in the show, guy by the name of Leo Burmester, handed me a book of Wendell Berry short stories and said, ‘I think you’re going to get a kick out of these.’ And, boy, it kind of turned my whole life upside-down. I was really moved by Wendell Berry’s creation, in his body of fiction, of a community that reminded me of the great farming family that I grew up in in Illinois. And then, just devouring all of his writing, then his essays and his poetry further cemented him as, in my opinion, the living writer with the most common sense and the most hard-hitting pathos for the human race. He’s my John Lennon or my Gandhi. I think if everybody would read Wendell Berry we’d have a lot less people shooting at each other.

Read more at Los Angeles Times


Award Given to Wendell Berry Interview

On November 8, 2014, Regent alumnus Chad Wriglesworth sat down with prolific author Wendell Berry to discuss work, sustainability, and eternity. The conversation, which took place at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, was first published in the Spring 2015 edition of CRUX.

We Are Still Near the Beginning: A Conversation with Wendell Berry has been awarded First Place in the Interview Article category of the Evangelical Press Association's 2016 Higher Goals Awards. Please join us in congratulating Wendell Berry, Chad Wriglesworth, and the editorial staff of CRUX for this significant achievement.

Read more at Regent College.


An Interview with Laura Dunn about Her Wendell Berry Film

One of the unique things about Berry’s fiction, and perhaps why some people find it less accessible, is that in many ways the books aren’t primarily about human characters but are instead about “a place on earth.” From what I’ve seen, you took a similar approach to Henry County in your movie. How did you go about trying to make Henry County, KY a character? 

You know, there’s this great line that Burley Coulter says where he says “we’re all a part of each other, each one of us is a part of one another, all of us, everything.” It’s this very theological idea, very similar to the words of Paul when he talks about the body of Christ having many different members but we’re all part of one body. That’s the image that was most in my mind as I worked on it and it’s very central to Wendell’s worldview; it’s very theological and ecological. 

The individual is a function of his place and the people around him; you don’t exist but for the others. That’s really profound and important and counter to the way our culture sees individuals now. We have Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and we think every detail we do is important and it’s actually all vanity. Really, who am I without my family, my place, my neighbors? They aren’t just obligation, they are a part of me, they define me. That’s really important to Wendell. He talked to me about that. It’s not about the individual; it’s about the whole community, the membership.

As I approached the film, if you look at that visual image with the man looking away and his back is made up of the landscape, the birds, the clouds, the rivers, the trees, the houses… that’s who Wendell is and his desire to not have it be all about him points us at that very important and significant part of his worldview. To me I still call it a portrait of Wendell Berry because the very way we portray the community is an aspect of something absolutely essential about him, we’re looking at the world through his eyes, not the way the world sees him. 

That being said, I thought it was very important in terms of the natural landscape to film across all four seasons, so you’re going back again and again to the same walk down the hills, the same farmhouse, so I think that also trying to film interview lots of different members of the community they really, I didn’t want one voice, I wanted a collection of different voices. So that’s another way we approached it.

Read the whole interview by Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy.


Wendell Berry Featured at NYT "By the Book"

The poet, novelist and environmentalist does not want his biography written. “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.”

What books are currently on your night stand?

My father’s much-marked Bible (King James Version), which I keep there for companionship and to read; Volume 1 of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” which I enjoy partly for the luxury of reading in no hurry, for I probably will never finish it; also “Venerable Trees,” by Tom Kimmerer, about the surviving trees of the original savannas or woodland pastures of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Read more at The New York Times.


Brief Interview with Wendell Berry on NBCC Lifetime Award

Christina Berke: What do you hope this prestigious award will help you do?

Wendell Berry:  My side on the issue of land use has not much standing and receives little notice, although most of the land that’s now in use is seriously and dangerously abused. Any notice or prestige that comes to me, I hope, will increase a little the standing of my side.

CB: In your essay/speech “Local Economies to Save the Land and the People” you outline 12 ways to save the people and the land. Most of these center around community and household action. How can we make these relevant and concrete to our youth, or more particularly, college-age students?

WB: The economy that people actually depend upon for food, clothing, and shelter cannot dependably be invented and imposed by corporations in the best interest of the land and the people. People can defend themselves and their places only by making their household and community economies as diverse, coherent, and self-sufficient as possible. Most colleges are not going to teach this. Most professors don’t know it. Young people will have to learn it from parents or other elders or historical examples, and of course from their own reading, observation, and experience.

Read it all at The New School.


An Interview with Wendell Berry in Italian

Non possiede telefono. Non usa la posta elettronica. E non concede spesso interviste: protegge con cura la privacy nel suo buen retirodi PortWilliam (nel Kentucky), l’epicentro fisico e culturale dei suoi romanzi. Wendell Berry è uno dei più letti, acclamati e appassionanti scrittori americani d’oggi, erede di quella grande tradizione di narratori- attivisti alternativi al mainstream commercial-letterario: in questo deve aver giocato un ruolo anche la sua amicizia con Thomas Merton, il celebre scrittore-monaco. 

Wendell Berry, classe 1934, sta conoscendo in Italia – grazie all’editrice Lindau – una seconda giovinezza di notorietà (negli anni passati fu tradotto dalla Libreria editrice fiorentina). Proprio lui, che negli anni Settanta assorbì in Italia (era venuto a Firenze per insegnare inglese) il gusto della bellezza del paesaggio e di un’agricoltura in armonia, e non in alternativa, con l’uomo. Di lì la sua decisione di tornare nel natio Kentucky e di portare avanti un modo di coltivare i campi non più intensivo né predatorio, ma in simbiosi con il creato. Lui, che ha più volte manifestato la sua adesione al cristianesimo, per quanto non in maniera confessionale, bensì esistenziale: «Sono una persona che prende sul serio il Vangelo» ebbe a scandire un giorno durante un talk show. E proprio in questa visione religiosa della vita si inscrive la sua scelta radicalmente «verde». 

Read the whole interview at Avvenire.it