Wendell Berry to Receive 2016 Voice of the Heartland Award

The Boards of Directors of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association and the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association take great pleasure in announcing that the Wendell Berry is the recipient of the 2016 Voice of the Heartland Award.

This award is given in recognition of a life of dedication and service to independent bookselling, and there are few writers in our region who fully embody this dedication more than Wendell Berry.  His body of work encompasses more than 50 volumes of essays, poems, and fiction, all with an eye to celebrating the local and the Independent--two values that are very dear to the hearts of our members, and central to our mission as independent booksellers.

See more information at Midwest Independent Booksellers Association.

A Review of Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter

A poignant novel told from the point of view of a widowed young wife who lived during the Depression and World War II, lost both her parents at a young age, endured the great loneliness of loss, enjoyed a brief marriage until she lost her husband in the war, Hannah Coulter portrays the goodness and beauty of a traditional way of life that has become foreign in modernity. Recovering slowly and eventually remarrying, Hannah begins a new life with her husband Nathan, raises a family on a modest farm that demanded great labor from both husband and wife, and learns that love is stronger than death no matter the tragic nature of the human condition. Hannah Coulter spans the life of the main character from the time of her childhood to old age lived in Port William, Kentucky—a close-knit farming community where love of neighbor, charity, and kindness create a human culture centered in the bonds of lasting, endearing human relationships. The novel is not a mere chronology of events but a testimony to a way of life committed to the love of place, of the land, of family, and of the enduring human values that make life rich and abundant, not in material wealth or resources, but in the fullness of joy and love that overflows from the goodness of human hearts.

Read "On Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter" by Mitchell Kalpakgian at Crisis Magazine.

Social Media: Where Wendell Berry's Past is Always Present?

We use social media to remain on the culture’s cutting edge, ahead of the curve, or (at the very least) up-to-date. And yet, in keeping my eye on All Things Wendell Berry, I’ve noticed an odd trend. Folks are posting links to old news and treating them as if they are new news. A week or so ago it was a surge of interest in WB having received The National Humanities Medal from President Obama. This happened six years ago in 2010.

Today a quick glance at “Wendell Berry” on Twitter shows a wide-ranging interest in another event from 2010: the withdrawal of his archives from the University of Kentucky because UK had accepted money from Big Coal and named a student residence building Wildcat Coal Lodge. 

I’m happy to see so much attention given to Wendell’s various adventures. It’s good to celebrate & remember anyone’s noble acts. But none of these tweets begin “‪#‎otd‬ (on this day) in 2010.” 

I guess we've just hit The End of History out here on the internet where all the clocks click Now and Now and Now.


Wendell Berry and Pastoral Ministry

Wendell Berry has made his home in Henry County, Kentucky, for more than a half-century. From this place and his affection for it, he has written approximately 50 books of poetry, fiction, and essays. Berry offers an alternative voice we can learn from, especially where his writings mirror biblical teachings better than religious books featuring baptized secular industrial models.

Pastors seeking to revitalize churches will do well to revitalize their minds along lines Berry suggests.

He asks us to choose nurturing over exploiting as a way of life. Exploiters look at people, land, and communities as raw materials to be mined for one’s own career and retirement portfolio. Exploiters inevitably look at churches the same way. Nurturers, by contrast, seek to conserve, preserve, enhance, and heal while living with people in community in particular places. The nurturer seeks wise practices that build for the long term. As Berry writes in The Unsettling of America (1977), perhaps his best-known volume:

The exploiter typically serves an institution or organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, “hard facts”; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind. . . . The first casualties of the exploitive revolution are character and community. . . . Once the revolution of exploitation is underway, statesmanship and craftsmanship are gradually replaced by salesmanship.

Read the complete article by Paul House at The Gospel Coalition.

Wendell Berry on August 6, 1945


Late Monday morning, August sixth, the president announces that on the day before an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Mat, who was at work in the garden, happened to come to the house with a bucket of tomatoes just as the news came on the radio. And so with Margaret and Hannah and Nettie he hears most of the story, the correct voice of the newsman reciting what there is to tell, standing the event nakedly among them in the room, leaving it there without explanation or comment. Or at least, in the silence after the radio is snapped off, such explanation as was given seems overwhelmed by the event itself.

After he finishes his work in the garden, he hitches his team to the mowing machine and goes until sundown in the unending rounds, cutting the weeds and tree-sprouts that rise against him year after year in the opened fields.

Better than any other work he loves the mowing. He goes through the long afternoon, watching with a kind of ardor the tall growth in its flowing backward fall over the chattering teeth of the cutter bar, the slow uncovering of the shape of the long ridge. It is, as always, one of the heights of his intimacy with the place, and he does not flag in his attentiveness. When the sun has reddened and cooled and come down, throwing deeps shadows into the hollows, he turns the team toward the edge of the field, and speaks, stopping them. He throws the machine out of gear and, getting stiffly down, raises the cutter bar and bolts it upright. He takes up the reins again, lifts himself back onto the seat, speaks to the team, and the iron wheels begin to turn in the direction of the barn, soundlessly for the first time in hours, over the cushion of mowed grass.

And through all that time he has been followed by the unfinished knowledge of the bomb and the destroyed city. He has felt his mind borne, like a man in a little boat, on the crest of history, in a violence of pure effect, as though the event of the war, having long ago outdistanced its cause, now escapes comprehension, and speeds on. It has seemed to him that the years of violence have at last arrived at what, without his knowing it, they had been headed for, not by any human reason but by the logic of violence itself. And all the events of the war are at once altered by their result—though he cannot yet tell how or how much.

Wendell Berry, A Place on Earth (1983)

If you have not yet read A Place on Earth, please do yourself the great favor. If you have read it, maybe it's time for another look at this tremendous novel. 

This brief section strikes me as one of the most honest presentations of how the terrible news of the bombing of Hiroshima might have been received. The subtle contrast of Mat Feltner's pleasant and peaceful care of his place with his new knowledge, abstract and incomplete, of the utter destruction of another place captures the struggle to conceive of the inconceivable.  


On Wendell Berry as "The Seer" from 'Nowhere'

Produced and directed by Austin-based filmmaker Laura Dunn, and executive produced by Redford and Malick, The Seer is less a biographical study of Berry the man than an illustration of things that he values: the beauty and importance of his place and other places like it, and the people who live in it, care for it, and love it. In fact, the film’s footage is largely made up of video interviews with Berry’s friends and fellow natives of Port Royal, each of whom seems to view Berry as a kind of comrade in arms—a sympathizer—rather than a celebrity. And from early on in the film, it’s clear that Berry loves these people, that he values them. In a sense, the film feels like an elegy to people like them and the places they inhabit, a mournful recognition that we have forgotten them too easily. “The great cultural failure that we have made here in the United States,” he says midway through the film, “is to mistake millions of individual small places, with their own character, their own needs and demands in use . . . for nowhere. And of course there’s a penalty for that and of course we’re paying the penalty.”

There’s an ecological cost, to be sure, and Berry specifically mentions soil erosion and polluted rivers and toxicity, each of which he has castigated for decades. But there is also a very real human cost: towns that are dying, farms that are failing, and communities that are fading. This is not a problem unique to Kentucky or to the South or to farming communities. It’s an American problem, and it’s a problem of our own making, Berry argues.

Read the whole article by David Kern at Christ & Pop Culture.

"Reading Wendell Berry in the National Parks"

This summer the National Park Service turns one hundred years old, and many Americans—including the presidential family—are taking summer vacations to enjoy what Wallace Stegner called America’s “best idea.” In order to better appreciate what makes our National Parks so valuable, these vacationers might want to bring along the latest book by one of Stegner’s students, Wendell Berry.

A Small Porch is an unusual book; the first half contains poems, while the second half consists of a long essay on how poets and farmers have imagined the persona of Nature over the past one thousand years. These two sections complement each other, offering a nuanced vision of “Dame Nature” as a spiritual, cultural, and economic guide. While the National Parks can unfortunately reinforce a sentimental view of wilderness, permitting visitors to simply consume its scenery as tourists, Berry’s poetry and essay remind us that as members of the natural world we have a more complex responsibility, one that requires humans to be Nature’s “student[s] and collaborator[s].”

Read all of the essay by Jeffrey Bilbro at National Parks Traveler.

WPFL reviews "The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry"

Partway through the documentary “The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry,” Mary Berry, daughter of the esteemed Kentucky writer and activist, says that places like Henry County, Kentucky are often flippantly called “nowhere.”

“Or the sticks,” she says. “And there are other names for places like this and names for the people who live in them.”

She says that’s why it was key that when making the film, director Laura Dunn understood how important the culture of rural Kentucky is and detailed how it is falling apart. This mirrors what Wendell Berry has written for decades — honing specifically in on the topics of farming, faith and fellowship, and in this narrative how the three are intrinsically tied.

Read (or listen to) it all at WPFL.