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March 2011
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Blog Watch: Reading "Nathan Coulter"

The brightest spot in the story is the presence of Nathan’s uncle, Burley Coulter.  Burley Coulter is a very memorable character, a part of the Port William membership who also appears in Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter.  There’s a vignette in Nathan Coulter about Nathan and Burley catching a whopper of a catfish; the story of this catfish turns into a true “fish tale,” and before it’s all said and done, even Burley is tired of the ruckus it has caused.  The story is brilliantly executed, and I was reminded of my own uncles and cousins (and even, to an extent, my own father) who loved to fish.  I was surrounded by fishermen growing up, and reading of jigs and lines and all night fishing trips was familiar and enjoyable for me. 


Blog Watch: "Wendell Berry's Short-sighted Nostalgia for the Local"

While Berry's nostalgia for local speech has validity, he romanticizes the local, embuing it with a presumed wisdom and care for the land. However, the insular and small-town South through the Depression was known for overplanting and ruining local land. Its communities were crippled by prejudice, violence and hostility for fresh ideas, as Faulkner shows. Disease and ignorance were widespread. Berry doesn't mention Flannery O'Connor, perhaps because her work, while vibrant in local dialect, shows the ruin of this stunted culture. Despite the emergence of local artists such as Faulkner and the Carter family, the local communties were more marked by inarticulateness than poetry, myth and music. Despite Berry's championing of local virtue, the achievement of the Carter family and Faulkner was the result of outside influences and education interacting with local customs and ways of living. Some of the best-known Carter songs were actually not local folk music, but Tin Pan alley works that had slowly come to the mountains. And Faulkner's work was enriched by his interaction with cosmopolitan influences.


Blog Watch: Meet Wendell Berry

Essayist. Poet. Advocate. Farmer.

Wendell Berry – a native of Henry County, Kentucky – has been a proverbial Lorax for the past 40 years with his fierce criticism of agribusiness and mountaintop removal. He speaks for the trees, the rivers and the frugality of life, all while making a name for himself as a “non-cooperator.”

During a radio interview with Indiana Public Media, Berry explained how – being a farmer – he has had to maintain a balance between academics and agriculture.

“The farm has never provided our major income, but it has provided a considerable portion of our subsistence,” said Berry, referring to his 117-acre plot of land on the slopes of the Ohio River Valley. “For a long time I earned our living by teaching for ten years, traveling and doing lectures and readings.”


"Wendell Berry on Growing Appalachia's Local Economies"

At Saturday’s Growing Appalachia workshop in Prestonsburg, KFTC member, National Humanities Medal recipient and native Kentuckian Wendell Berry facilitated a conversation about both the importance of and the challenges inherent to growing strong local economies.  Berry recognized his ‘outsider’ role in the Appalachian context – Berry is a native of Henry County, KY – but stressed that he too is connected to the region, ecologically in the form of shared water resources and economically in the form of the interdependent economic system currently in place.

In speaking of bolstering local economies, Berry noted that the will and the way have to come from internal desires: “It has to come from the people here, because they love here.”  Outsiders telling people in Appalachia what to do for eons.  Berry’s message reinforced that a local economy is one that serves the needs of the local people – as opposed to an imposed economy, which most of Appalachia has had for at least the last century, that serves the needs or in many cases the wants of outsiders.  This, according to Berry’s narrative, has resulted in a system where Appalachia has paid the costs without enjoying proportional benefits.


Blog Watch: "Michelle Obama & Wendell Berry"

"I thank you for that garden," the renowned agricultural activist tells First Lady...
President Obama
honored Wendell E. Berry with the 2010 National Humanities Medal on March 2, and the White House has just released the photo, above, of First Lady Obama sharing a laugh with the world-renowned writer and agricultural philosopher/economist during the Blue Room reception after the ceremony


Blog Watch: Jayber Crow on Preaching

Wendell Berry maybe best known for his essays on agrarian (hence environmental and ecological) topics; his greatest work, to my mind, is in his novels, all of which take place in and around and concern the “membership” of Port William, a small river town in Kentucky.  My wife Susanna and I recently finished reading (aloud, of course!) Hannah Coulter, and we are now halfway through Jayber Crow.  Yes, I know we’re working backwards – that’s how life is sometimes.  Anyway – last night’s selection caught my attention and seems worth sharing.  Enjoy the selections – but better, get out and read the book!

Jayber, whose religion is real and deep and passionate and mostly of the unorganized variety, is the town’s barber – and gravedigger – and permanent bachelor – and, in this chapter, has just become the Port William’s church janitor.  Jayber’s  observations on the nature of the preaching (and preachers) in this rural church are important, and reflect Berry’s perception of a fundamental flaw in the Christian faith as practiced at that time and in that place:


Of interest: "Court ruling reminds lawyers to keep it civil"

Letter criticized ethics commission

According to court filings, Henry County lawyer and former state Sen. John M. Berry Jr. attempted to attend an August 2007 Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission hearing stemming from allegations of fund-raising irregularities by David Williams, president of the Kentucky Senate and this year a Republican candidate for governor.

Court documents say Berry and his brother, author Wendell Berry, were not permitted to attend the hearing. He sent a letter to the commission and the media stating in part that excluding the public and the media from the hearing “gave cause for some to speculate that the deck was stacked and the Senator would be exonerated. I was not, and am not, willing to go that far, but I do believe that your order … that exonerated him was contrary to the undisputed evidence that was presented.”


Of interest: Erosion in Iowa

According to official U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, Iowa soil erodes at an average rate of 5.2 tons per acre annually, which is close to the rate at which the USDA estimates most Iowa land can maintain its productivity. Five tons per acre of soil would be a sheet less than a dime in thickness.

But in 2009 one in every four townships in Iowa, 395 in all, had average erosion rates of more than 10 tons per acre, according to the report by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C., research and advocacy group.

Thirty townships that year had erosion rates exceeding 50 tons an acre.


Scott Russell Sanders on Wendell Berry

Chapter 16: Your work comes highly recommended by noted environmentalist Wendell Berry, for whom this event is named. Aside from the environmental concerns you share, how do you see your literary mission as overlapping his, if at all? Do the two of you know each other in real life?

Sanders: Wendell Berry’s writing has been nourishing me for 40 years. I’ve known him in person for nearly that long, since working up my nerve to ask if I could visit him at his home on the Kentucky River with my wife and our young children in the summer of 1975. Wendell and his wife Tanya received us graciously and talked with us through most of a Sunday afternoon. My only claim on their hospitality was that Wendell’s essays, stories, and poems had given me a clearer sense of my own calling as a writer. He helped me to see the importance of community and place, the role of culture in shaping our treatment of the land, and the power of literature to illuminate our lives. He also demonstrated that it is possible to make important art without living in one of the celebrated centers of cultural and economic power.