Another Review of "The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry"

Austin-based Cinematographer Lee Daniel – perhaps best known for his collaborations with director Richard Linklater on films like Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise and Boyhood – just won a Special Jury Recognition for Cinematography at the 2016 SXSW Festival for his work on The Seer, and it is well deserved. A movie about the destruction of America’s fading heartland and traditional farming practices, The Seer owes much of its raw power to Daniel’s stunning shots of Kentucky’s rural landscapes and portraits of its worn-out denizens. Co-directors Laura Dunn and Jef Sewell (director and producer on The Unforeseen, which Daniel also shot) do a fine job assembling footage for this elegiac cri de cœur, but the movie really belongs to Daniel’s images.

Read it all at Hammer to Nail.

Wendell Berry to Keynote Books Conference

WB Lex

The 2016 Books-in-Progress Conference, featuring award-winning author Wendell Berry (World LostJayber Crow, and Hannah Coulter, among others) is slated for June 2-4, 2016. The conference will offer craft & business workshops led by authors Silas House, A.J. Verdelle, Marcia Thornton Jones, Writer’s Digest editor Jessica Strawser, and more.  Enjoy small break-out sessions & personal attention. Topics include place, character, revision, marketing your book, children’s literature, and more.

See more information at The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, Lexington, KY.

"The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry" in Bozeman, MT

The new documentary, “The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry,” begins with a stunning whirlwind view of modern life, then meanders down a leaf strewn path through the forest to a place seen as the boondocks – the sticks, nowhere – and proceeds to both tell and show us the beauty of life there. Throughout the journey, our guide is the deep, rich voice of the author, sharing his works and his wisdom on the transformation of this country’s agrarian areas during the rise of industrial agriculture in a process he once referred to as “the unsettling of America.” “The Seer” is an ode to the small town, the small farm and the countryside – a powerful call for reconnecting with the land and community.

Read the whole piece by Jason Burlage at Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Wendell Berry and Life's Small Battles

Berry masterfully crafted these stories to be honest about the human condition with its complex mixture of triumph and sorrow. In so doing, he managed to communicate powerful and eternal truths about the importance of community, kinship, and love.

Just look at Uncle Peach and Wheeler Catlett. Uncle Peach is an estranged family member who makes poor life choices. Wheeler chose to push him away for many years. Broken families are no doubt a reality in this sinful world and perhaps among all of us. But Berry, through Wheeler’s mother, shows the importance and responsibility of love for those whom we call family. The human condition is messy and full of failure, but that does not excuse us from entering into the messiness.

A similar lesson is taught through Mat Felner and his mother. Sickness and pain is a reality with which all of humanity is familiar. Mat encountered this frailness first hand with the hurt man that stepped into his door. He was afraid and shocked by this man. We are all discouraged by the challenges of our world, but Mat’s mother was “a woman who did what the world put before her to do.” In another story, Elton Penn and the community showed love to the sick and desperate Mary Penn. Berry recognizes the realities of man’s fears, but encourages us to break free and love the world in small and ordinary ways, especially through our family members and neighbors.

Read the whole piece by Eric Peterman at The Washington Institute.

On Wendell Berry and Institutions

Institutionalization is neither fundamentally conservative nor liberatory; it depends entirely on the nature of the original concept and how it is established and maintained. To preserve the ethos driving ecological agrarianism, we must insist over and again that the complexities of “nature’s standard” not be simplified and that experience in and service to actual places not be supplanted by placebos. Failing these, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate the sort of affection necessary for the paradigm shift an ecological worldview entails.

In this light, I ask: What would it mean for ecological agrarianism to become the established custom? Institutionalizing ecological agrarian thought will mean making a fundamental shift in our minds and, thereby, our cultures. Compassion, collaboration, and respect must guide our actions. In other words, we will be guided by affection. We will be asked to see ourselves as absolutely placed in particular, rather than abstract, locations because a “mind so placed meets again and again the necessity for work to be good.” In this vein, Berry writes in “The Whole Horse”:

[T]he agrarian mind is less interested in abstract quantities than in particular qualities. It feels threatened and sickened when it hears people and creatures and places spoken of as labor, management, capital, and raw material. It is not at all impressed by the industrial legendry of gross national products, or of the numbers sold and dollars earned by gigantic corporations. It is interested—and forever fascinated—by questions leading toward the accomplishment of good work…. questions which cannot be answered in the abstract, and which yearn not toward quantity but toward elegance. Agrarianism can never become abstract because it has to be practiced in order to exist.

Read the whole article by Leah Bayens at The Whole Horse Project.

This is Part 2 of an essay by Leah Bayens. See Part 1 ("A Way of Thought Based on Land") HERE.

An Italian Reader Responds to Wendell Berry's "Jayber Crow"

Jayber Crow non è uno di quei libri che solitamente mi piacciono e mi conquistano. Eppure, in un certo senso, lo ha fatto. Bello lungo, con una trama apparentemente banale, con pagine apparentemente noiose e altre, invece, intensissime. È un libro che nonostante la pacatezza del narratore e protagonista, racconta con chiarezza cosa succede quando il progresso si scontra col passato; la natura, che coi suoi tempi, regna sovrana; la fede e il rapporto con Dio e di come cambia nel corso di una vita; le dinamiche dei rapporti umani, nel bene e nel male. È un libro che mi ha fatto anche un po’ incazzare (spiego dopo perché), ma allo stesso tempo mi ha fatto venire voglia di andare in un bosco, sdraiarmi lì e non fare niente tranne che stare ferma e immobile per qualche tempo a cercare di trovare quel legame con la terra che non ho mai avuto. Sensazioni contraddittorie, lo so, ma d’altronde 500 pagine non possono essere statiche.

Read more HERE.

And a sometimes charming, raggedy translation via Google:

Jayber Crow is not one of those books that I like and usually win me. Yet, in a sense, it did. Nice along with a seemingly banal plot, with seemingly boring pages and others, however, very intense. It is a book that despite the calmness of the narrator and protagonist, tells clearly what happens when progress collides with the past; nature, which, with its times, reigns supreme;faith and relationship with God and how it changes during the course of a lifetime; the dynamics of human relationships, for better or for worse. It is a book that made me a little 'pissed off (I explain later why), but at the same time has made me want to go to a forest, lie there and do nothing except stand still and motionless for some time trying to find that bond with the land that I never had. contradictory feelings, I know, but then 500 pages can not be static.

Wendell Berry's Remarks upon Receiving the NBCC Lifetime Achievement Award

From the Periphery to the Center

When I learned that this award for my life’s work as a writer, so far, would require a little more writing, I began of course to worry about what to say. I thought I would [say] that I am grateful, which I certainly am. I thought I would say I am as grateful as I am surprised, which would enlarge and intensify my thanks. I thought I would say that critics, who help us to enjoy books and to converse intelligently about them, are necessary to the life of reading and so to the survival of civilization. And I thought I should acknowledge my assumption that the literary judgment even of book critics can be wrong, and that my lifetime of writing is by no means singularly worthy of recognition. So much, I thought, would fulfill my two grandmothers’ expectations of decent manners, and so would let me off, as they might have said, with a lick and a promise.

And then I remembered a long-ago review of one of my books along with a book by my friend and ally Wes Jackson. The reviewer said that our two books, one by a rural Kentuckian, another by a rural Kansan, represented an effort by the periphery to speak to the center. “The center,” as I understood it, designated the great urban headquarters of national culture, finance, and politics — “the periphery,” then, being the country itself, the farms, forests, and mines, from which the nation lives, but of which the nation is largely ignorant, which it has too often used wastefully and with small thanks to the people who have done the fundamental work. One reason for the periphery to speak to the center is that it is wrong, because impossible, to divide urban and rural problems into two separate categories. Between country and city the economic interdependence is intimate, whether or not this is recognized by economists. Also many city problems have their origin in the country, and vice versa. Those thoughts settled my mind and forced me to abandon my hope to escape this occasion with an easy politeness.

My writing for fifty or sixty years has been given to regret for the manifold abuses of our economic landscapes, and so to advocacy for kindly treatment of all the lives involved in what Aldo Leopold called “the land community.” If this award to my work signifies it has been read and somewhat approved by literate and thoughtful people of the center, that goes palpably to my heart, and adds a substantial gravity to my thanks. Now I must thank you for encouraging me and my allies to hope that what we have known to be a mostly unheeded appeal from the periphery might at last become half of an actual conversation with the center.

From National Book Critics Circle Award.

On Wendell Berry, Farming, and Churches

In his book Remembering, Wendell Berry tells the story of two farmers. The first has acquired 2,000 acres through a patient buying out of his neighbors’ farms. He converted all 2,000 acres to corn fields, because corn produces the most cash. In order to farm all of those acres, he went into debt so as to have the necessary machinery and so as to buy all of the necessary chemicals, and “farms” from his plush office while the stress of his vocation slowly eats away at his body in the form of an ulcer.

The other farmer is Amish, and farms his 80 acres with plough horses. This farm is diversified, and is an economy unto itself, for the fertilizer comes from the animals, and the work is no more or less than can be accomplished by the farmer, his wife, and their children and neighbors. This farmer does not have an easy life, but has an ease born of the freedom of a right-sized agricultural enterprise.

(Somewhere, I’m told, Eugene Peterson has written that when Wendell Berry speaks of farming we are to think of the church. No matter if Eugene ever really said this, as my friend Andy Nagel has encouraged the same correlation, and his advice is more important to me than that of North America’s favorite grumpy pastoral theologian. No matter, too, if Berry himself would approve of the correlation. My hunch is that he wouldn’t, and would rant and rave–and who can rant and rave like Berry?–that he was talking about farming, da_ _’t! We are impervious to this rant because of that handy tool of postmodernity, the intentional fallacy.)

Read the complete article by Jeff Hoffmeyer HERE

Nick Offerman Honors Wendell Berry at NBCC Awards

On Thursday, March 17, Wendell Berry was presented with The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle. The presentation speech was made by actor and woodworker Nick Offerman, whose remarks included:

Ladies and gentlemen, to my way of thinking, this exceptional lifetime achievement as farmer, poet, husband, citizen, novelist, neighbor, essayist, father, son, grandfather, pacifist, brother, and fisherman, with the disposition of a philosopher king, would not have so occurred had it not been for two imperative life choices. The first and most consequential of these was of course his marriage to his wife Tanya in 1957. I misspoke when I said that he alone had made his bed, because he and Tanya have tucked in the bedclothes together now for nigh on 60 years. They’ve each been responsible for 50 percent of the bed-making and if there has in fact been any deviation from that ratio, well, that’s their business. They’re still together so they clearly must have hit upon an accord of some stripe. However, as Mr. Berry is to be rightly and fulsomely lauded for the achievements he has compiled, I vowed that his marriage must be cited in the same breath, for in many ways marriage and fidelity are the central themes at the root of Mr. Berry’s life’s work. Literal marriage between two people yes, but also our undeniable betrothal to the natural world and our responsibilities to that bed as well. As he tells us in his essay “The Body and the Earth”: “No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, we can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one’s partiality.”

To read the complete speech, please visit