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September 2012

Wendell Berry donates papers to Kentucky Historical Society

The papers of Kentucky writer Wendell Berry, many of which he pulled from the University of Kentucky in late 2009 over its ties with the coal industry, have been donated to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.

The historical society said Berry's materials, which include writings, research and incoming correspondence, are being processed and will be made available to researchers by Nov. 1. Berry has restricted access to his personal writings during his lifetime, requiring researchers seeking access to request his approval.


Wendell Berry in New York in October

He just turned 78 on Sunday, though, and the Kentucky resident is not especially keen on travel, although his presence is much in demand. “I’m saying no to just about everything these days,” Mr. Berry said on the phone on Tuesday. “I have work to do, still, and traveling is work. It isn’t very productive work, and it isn’t very pleasant. Driving is a strain and flying is an insult to the flesh and spirit.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Berry makes a journey when “I think it’s most needed,” he said, which is why he will be coming to New York in October to take part in the annual James Beard Foundation Food Conference.


Reflections on the institutional Church and Wendell Berry's work

This is the talk I prepared for the Wendell Berry class that my pastor and I are currently leading at our church, Grace Chapel in Lincoln NE.

The question we’re going to be discussing for the rest of August is that of Berry’s relationship to the institutional church. To start out, I’m going to quote from two passages that are fairly representative of his view and then flesh those out with a few other passages that are less explicit, but do, I think, tie in with the general subject.

The lengthiest discussion of the church in Berry’s fiction is an excerpt from Jayber Crow talking about the revolving door of young ministers that passed through the town over Jayber’s time in Port William.


Wendell & Mary Berry join others at The Land Institute

We hope you've marked your calendars for Sept. 28-30 and plan to join us for the 34th celebration of this amazing weekend! 

We are thrilled to announce our speaker line-up: Mary Berry, Wendell Berry, Eric Gimon, Michelle Mack, David W. Orr, P. Sainath,  and of course, Wes Jackson. Saturday evening's entertainment will be provided by the very talented singer/songwriter, Eliza Gilkyson. The featured gallery artist this year is Gesine Janzen, and we have a special art installation by sculptor Bill McBride as an accompaniment to our Friday night barn dance and bonfire. 


Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson Interview

Why has the term “sustainability” become so popular, and is it useful?

Berry: I’ll go out on a limb, and Wes can saw it off. We’re stuck with this word because of the obvious need to sustain the things that we’re not sustaining. But by itself, the word doesn’t mean very much because no word means much by itself. If you’re going to make use of this word, you have to find a context for it in which it can mean something. You can look around and study examples. You can find here and there forests that have been sustainably managed, so far as we can tell. You can find farms that are not running off a lot of topsoil after rains. If you can get it particular enough, you can talk about sustainability and make a little sense. But it’s a matter of getting it into sentences that say something actually verifiable in a context. And I think we have a long, long way to go.

Jackson: The first paper I wrote that described our current work was published in our Land Report and was titled, “The Search for a Permanent Agriculture.” I’d read about the Catholic Church’s idea of “permanence” as a kind of virtue. But “permanence” wasn’t quite right. When I published the paper outside The Land Report, I changed the title to “The Search for a Sustainable Agriculture.” The term must have been floating around in 1978.

I’ve been asked to define the term and give examples. My response has been, “well, give me a definition of justice.” The idea of justice arose in a historical moment, probably out of the idea of fairness, or the perceived lack of fairness. It arose, as I understand it, among the Hebrews, about the time of the minor prophets. Maybe that’s where we are today with “sustainability”—it is a term we the people have resorted to because of the perceived lack of sustainability in our society.

Ultimately it comes back to Wendell’s idea that it is best to have a particularity in order to know what we’re talking about. It is a value term, and I’m in favor of keeping it, but we need to protect its meaning, protect it from being co-opted.


You owe it to yourself to read the complete interview HERE.

Wendell Berry: Hero of Sustainability

“Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.” — Wendell Berry

Prolific writer and farmer Wendell Berry has spent his life sticking close to his roots. That doesn’t mean the Kentucky-based scholar has never gone out and experienced anything new — he studied at Stanford University in California, taught at New York University, and traveled to Italy and France as part of a fellowship.

“In high school, my teachers were telling me you can’t amount to anything and stay where you’re from,” he told Smithsonian magazine. “So when I left here, I assumed I would be an academic wanderer perhaps, that I’d be going with my ‘talent’ from one university to another so I could amount to something. When I decided to come back here, a lot of people I respected thought I was deliberately achieving my ruin.”