New study of Wendell Berry due in January 2019

In Virtues of Renewal: Wendell Berry’s Sustainable Forms, Jeffrey Bilbro combines textual analysis and cultural criticism to explain how Berry’s literary forms encourage readers to practice virtues of renewal. While the written word alone cannot enact change, Bilbro asserts that Berry’s poetry, essays, and fiction can inspire people to, as Berry writes, “practice resurrection.” Bilbro examines the distinct, yet symbiotic, features of these three genres, demonstrating the importance of the humanities in supporting tenable economies. He uses Berry’s pieces to suggest the need for more robust language for discussing conservation, ecology, and the natural—and regenerative—process of death. Bilbro additionally translates Berry’s literature to a wider audience, putting him in conversation with philosophers and theologians such as Ivan Illich, Willie Jennings, Charles Taylor, and Augustine.

See complete information at The University Press of Kentucky.


Nick Offerman on Wendell Berry's new Library of America volume

Wendell Berry’s works are, perhaps, the literary equivalent of one of the farm tables from his own stories, laden with robust dishes of every stripe, from savory to sweet to salty, all to be washed down with spring water, lemonade and buttermilk, or perhaps a little firewater if our luck holds. And the analogy doesn’t end there, either, because that multi-plattered feast is surrounded by smells, by raucous laughter and talk, roosters and roof-drumming raindrops, or at other times by silence, solemn and gravid.

The gift of Mr. Berry’s yarn-spinning is in how his work delves deeper and deeper, proceeding to tell you about the origins of the table itself, complete with the details of its earnest maker, as well as which joints are sound, and which might eventually give out due not to any fault of the craftsperson but to an unseen pitch pocket hiding inside one of the large stretcher tenons, weakening the joint with a natural, hollow cavity. And he’s still not done because he will then proceed to delineate the history of the oak tree from which the table’s boards were hewn, decades ago, and what was going on in that particular corner of the woodlot the day that tree was felled.

The table linens get the same treatment, as does the salt cellar, and . . . well, I imagine I’ve made my point. Attempting to apprehend the scope of his vision leaves me literally slack-jawed, tuckered out, and dumb.

Read all of Mr. Offerman's thoughts at Library of America.


Sutterfield cites Wendell Berry in lecture about living in a time of death

On April 21, 2018, Ragan Sutterfield delivered the Tippy McMichael Lecture at St. Paul Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

He posed the questions: "What are we to do if we recognize the death of the earth and her ecosystems that have nurtured and sustained our lives? What do we do if we want to take this death seriously in search for a better way to live into whatever future life there will be on the the other side of chaos and mass extinction?" As the beginning of an answer he suggests, "Find a time and a place, and make them holy."

Sutterfield, author of Wendell Berry and the Given Life, has been deeply influenced by Mr. Berry's thought. In the following video he cites a brief passage from the early essay "A Native Hill."

Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch. And to come to that understanding it is necessary, even now, to leave the regions of our conquest—the cleared fields, the towns and cities, the highways—and re-enter the woods. For only there can a man encounter the silence and the darkness of his own absence. Only in the silence and darkness can he recover the sense of the world’s longevity, of its ability to thrive without him, of his inferiority to it and his dependence on it. Perhaps then, having heard that silence and seen that darkness, he will grow humble before the place and begin to take it in—to learn from it what it is.  


Wendell Berry on his literary friendships

In the course of collaborating with Wendell Berry on the chronology for our new collection of his fiction, Port William Novels & Stories (The Civil War to World War II), we persuaded him to elaborate on an initial set of notes regarding his fellow writers and teachers through the years. The results appear below, as a Library of America web exclusive.

Hayden Carruth. I first encountered his work in May of 1964. He first wrote to me in response to my poem “Meditation in the Spring Rain," I remember. But I don’t remember the year. After that we visited back and forth several times and carried on a lively and (to me) very valuable correspondence as long as he lived. I love him and his work very much.

Harry Caudill. In 1963, when I was living in New York and knew I would return home, Harry published Night Comes to the Cumberlands. I read it in the summer of that year. It showed me what it might mean to be a responsible Kentucky writer living in Kentucky, and it affected me deeply. Gurney Norman introduced me to Harry and Anne Caudill when I visited him in the summer of 1965. Harry (until his death) and Anne, Tanya and I became close friends and did a good deal of visiting and talking. Harry opposed the coal industry in coal country, pretty much face to face. He was, and he remains, a landmark.

See all of Mr. Berry's comments at Library of America.


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.] 


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

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.


Reflections on a new study of Wendell Berry

Wiebe, who teaches religion and ecology at the University of Alberta, argues that Berry’s fiction, particularly the Port William stories, reveals that learning to belong to a place is a process that requires the work of imagination and affection. The goods of rural life, according to Wiebe, are good only insofar as they “participate in a healthy social imagination of the place in which they are performed.” Imagination, more than technique or tradition, is the formative capacity that most influences human action and communal life. More than advocating for a new system of local agricultural practice, Berry’s writing reveals his struggle to reckon with the inextricable link between land and people, particularly as that struggle is enacted through his family’s involvement in the legacy of racism.

For Wiebe, the ultimate value of Berry’s fiction is its poetics—its ability to re-form human life through the work of the imagination. “The work of imagination is a work of self-interrogation,” not a head-in-the-clouds escapism. Imagina­tion asks that we see a thing for what it is and, in so doing, acknowledge the claim the thing makes upon us. This work of self-interrogation begins, for Berry, in the return to his native Kentucky, which compels him to reckon with the ways he and his family violated the relationship of land, place, and people by the forcible removal of the Shawnee people and the enslavement of African Americans who worked the stolen land. “Berry’s racial concerns are central to his agrarianism.”

Read the whole article by Kathryn Bradford Heidelberger at The Christian Century.