Wendell Berry files suit to prevent removal of UK mural

The University of Kentucky should halt the removal of a controversial 1930s-era mural that has been at the center of years of race-related, on-campus debate, a national group against censorship and a contemporary Black artist said in a letter to the university.

The National Coalition Against Censorship and Karyn Olivier — the artist who created a 2018 piece meant to contextualize the mural — say that the university shouldn’t take down the Ann Rice O’Hanlon piece that depicts Black workers, possibly slaves, because the mural’s removal would mute Olivier’s accompanying piece “Witness.”

Additionally, a complaint has been filed by renowned Kentucky poet and novelist Wendell Berry and his wife, Tanya, in Franklin County Circuit Court against the University of Kentucky and UK President Eli Capilouto, according to an attorney in the case. The complaint includes a request for an injunction to halt the removal or damage of the O’Hanlon Mural or the “Witness” installation by Olivier.

Read all of "Wendell Berry lawsuit, Black artist try to protect University of Kentucky mural" by Rick Childress and Morgan Eads at Lexington Herald-Leader.

See also: "Removing an offensive mural from the University of Kentucky isn’t ‘racial justice’" by Karyn Olivier at The Washington Post.
 
 
See also: "Students’ Calls to Remove a Mural Were Answered. Now Comes a Lawsuit" by Julia Jacobs at The New York Times.
 
 
 
 

On Wendell Berry and Thomas Merton

In 1965 Thomas Merton, after long waiting, moved into his hermitage on the grounds of Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky, where he had lived since 1942. A few months earlier and eighty miles north, Wendell Berry took apart a cabin that had belonged to his uncle and rebuilt it as his writing place, a kind of hermitage of his own, which James Baker Hall describes as “not just a quiet place, it was a place of quiet.”

Merton and Berry met, it seems, at least once— on December 10, 1967, exactly one year before Merton’s death. Wendell and his wife Tanya, poet Denise Levertov, the photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and his wife Madelyn all met at Gethsemani for lunch. The meeting seems to have been pleasant but exhausting for Merton, who wrote in his journal for that day “I am hoping this next week will be quiet — a time of fasting and retreat. Too many people here lately.”

Read all of "Work and Prayer: The Brief Friendship of Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry" by Dan Rattelle at Front Porch Republic.


Silas House visits Wendell Berry

Wendell is showing me the land he loves on the day before his eighty-fourth birthday. Most people might imagine rolling pastures with neat swirls of hay and shining thoroughbreds. But this is the man who wrote the masterpiece “The Peace of Wild Things” and he has seen to it that his land offers concord to the untamed. We are on a gravel road where the air grows green with leaf-light. On my side of the truck there is a steep bank rising skyward. On Wendell’s side the land drops down toward the meandering stream called Cane Run, whose waters flow calmly against sandy banks but possess a music when they swirl about in the exposed roots of beech trees or stumble over small congregations of rocks. Most of the trees are thin, and when I notice this Wendell tells me that all of this land was once cleared to make way for tobacco fields in which he worked as a young man, just as I did as a child. “It’s a gone way of life,” he says as we remember the beauty and misery of setting the plants, staking them, hanging the tobacco in the stifling, fragrant heat of the barns. We both recall the cold depths of a swimming hole after working in the fields all day. The camaraderie. The aunts on the setters, chattering over the groan of the tractor. I was once a twelve-year-old boy, beaming with pride as I drove the truck across the fields. Wendell was once a man in his early thirties, fists on his hips as he looked out at the tobacco planted across the bottomlands.

Read all of this essay by Silas House at South Writ Large ... excerpted from Step into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia.

 


On Wendell Berry and bell hooks in place

Berry, a white agrarian-activist-author born in 1934, left his remote central Kentucky farm life to pursue education which ultimately led him to New York City where he was poised by his thirties for literary success as a professor at New York University. 

hooks was born in 1952 and her childhood roots were in Hopkinsville, Kentucky soil but transplanted to Southern California for college. She hoped, as an African American girl raised in racial segregation, to find a more accepting climate for community. Studying English at Stanford University, she garnered success as a writer and activist and, a couple of decades after Berry, found her feet planted in New York City with diverse community and career dreams. 

Berry and hooks are kindred although not kin. Their careers took them to the biggest apple from which an American can bite. Yet upon arrival they found it lacking sustenance. So, independently from each other, Berry, then hooks, made their way back to Kentucky. Berry’s Bluegrass State homecoming in 1965 planted him in Port Royal where he has farmed and written an impressive canon of essays, poetry, and novels. 

hooks, partly inspired by Berry’s agrarian essays, decided to depart New Yorck and make Berea, KY, a town begun by abolitionist pastor John Fee in 1850 as a place for blacks and whites to dwell in community, her home in 2004.

Read all of "Berry, hooks, and the Courage to Live Small" by Rusty Woods at Fathom.


Wendell Berry reads "A Half Pint of Old Darling"

Many thanks to The Membership Podcast for bringing this video to our attention.

As part of Drennon Springs History Day, Henry County farmer, writer and activist Wendell Berry read his short story “A Half Pint of Old Darlin’,” from Watch with Me, a Port William Membership collection that took place in Goforth, a fictional stand-in loosely based on Drennon Springs, Kentucky.

Listen to The Membership discuss this story and "The Lost Bet" ... HERE.


Mr. Wendell Berry is not Fr. Thomas Berry, CP

Over brunch today with some Catholic friends, I happened to mention something about Wendell Berry—which occurs with some frequency, as you might guess. Today, however, one of my friends mentioned that Wendell Berry was "a Passionist." And I replied, of course, "Oh, you mean Thomas Berry." But was met with "No, Wendell Berry."

The confusion between Fr. Thomas Berry, CP (a Passionist eco-theologian and author of The Dream of the Earth) and Mr. Wendell Berry is understandable. When Fr. Berry died in 2009 there was a significant flurry of concern over the health of Mr. Berry. With clarifications from a number of directions, however, things settled down.

And yet, here it is again. So during this meal I felt compelled to pull out my phone and search. To my surprise, I easily found a link to an essay ("Strangers in Out Midst: Catholics in Rural America" by Jeffrey Marlett) in the collection Roman Catholicism in the United States: A Thematic History, which referred to "radical agrarians like Passionist priest Wendell Berry." The complete volume was just published this year by Fordham University Press.

It remains a bit irksome that even now, a full decade after Fr. Berry's death, Mr. Wendell Berry is misidentified as a Catholic priest—though this may be the source of some chuckling among Mr. Berry, his wife Tanya, and their children and grandchildren. Oh well ... I offer this simple graphic:

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Meeting Wendell Berry

Nearly every weekday, Wendell or his wife, Tanya, will stop by his P.O. box. The retail hours of the post office are just 10:30 am to noon, but Berry, a prolific letter writer, is a frequent patron. (The mail route in Port Royal offers service on Berry’s road but, like most conveniences, he doesn’t use it. “We want to support the local post office,” Berry explains. “We need that post office.”)

Here, in Kentucky, he has seen industry — coal, for example, once one of the state’s biggest employers — fleece the land and the people, sowing resentment. “The idea that rural and urban America describe two economies, one thriving and the other failing, is preposterous,” he tells me. “We’re joined by one economy. And it’s a one-way economy — the sucking and the digging is out here. The delivery is in the city. They’re prospering because they’re plundering their own country.”

The resulting slow bleed of life and self-sufficiency from small towns alarms the author. When Berry was growing up, many people worked at local farms or businesses. Today, nearly everyone is a commuter, working under a boss, and the small farms he remembers have largely vanished. “It’s a very significant change,” Berry says, “from self-employed to employee.”

Recognizing the problem of keeping people living and working in small communities like Port Royal, Berry’s daughter, Mary, founded the Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky, in 2011. It is a nonprofit with the goal of strengthening the bond between small farmers and the urban communities they serve. Mary says she hoped she could help “give people who want to farm something to come home to.”

Read all of "Wendell Berry is still ahead of us" by Hope Reese at Vox.


Mary Berry interviewed by Library of America

Library of America: In practical terms, how do you see the work you do at the Berry Center extending or perpetuating your father’s legacy?

Mary Berry: I started the Berry Center in 2011 to continue the work of my family for small farmers and land conserving communities, and to improve the culture of agriculture. My father says that his father, John Marshall Berry, did the important work and he and his brother, John Marshall Berry, Jr., just took it up. We have now taken it up at the Center, advocating for ways to put a stabilizing economy under good farming and to foster a culture that will support it.

We started with an archive of my family’s papers, papers that tell the story of how the agrarian mind works when put into service of a particular place. My grandfather, John Marshall Berry, was a lawyer, farmer, and principal author of the only farm program in the history of our country (the Burley Tobacco Growers Co-Operative Association) that served the people it was supposed to serve—the small family farmer. His papers highlight the program and a way of life that he honored. We have to change the way we judge and understand the history of agriculture in this country. These papers give us a way to do that.

Read all of  "Mary Berry: Extending Wendell Berry’s legacy is 'the most hopeful work I can think of'” at Library of America.


Wendell Berry interview in The New Yorker

A lot of people now come of age in places that feel like no place—a kind of vague American landscape, sculpted in part by corporations—which occasionally makes me wonder if homesickness, as a human experience, is itself on the verge of extinction.

Well, part of manners used to be to say to somebody you just met, “Where you from?” And I quit asking it, because so many people say they’re from everywhere or nowhere. I’ll tell you a little bit of my history that may be pertinent. My mother was born and grew up in Port Royal, my father about four miles south. Both of their families had lived here since about the beginning of the nineteenth century. When I came to teach at the University of Kentucky, Tanya and I thought we would live in Lexington, and we would have “a country place.” And we hardly had laid our hands to this house, which needed some preservation work, when we realized, we’re not going to have a country place, we’re going to live here. And so we have. We bought this home and twelve acres in the fall of 1964, and moved in, in the midst of renovations, in the summer of 1965. That put our children here, and now we’ve got grandchildren who are at home here. That comes from a decision that we made to be here, and to be here permanently.

See all of "Going Home with Wendell Berry" by Amanda Petrusich at The New Yorker.


Remembering a visit with Wendell Berry

So one day in late June of 2017, I was driving down a winding road in the farmland of Northern Kentucky, almost thinking I had taken a wrong turn until I approached a two-story white farm house matching the address Mr. Berry had given me.

I approached the front door, was greeted by two of Mr. Berry's dogs and his wife, Tanya, who was cutting roses to put in the house. She brought me into the kitchen and offered me a seat, and her husband came down the stairs within minutes.

Tanya, Wendell and I sat in their kitchen for two hours talking. For some reason, I expected their house to be abnormal, as both of them are well-known internationally, but I shouldn’t have been surprised that a couple who had moved back to Kentucky to take over the family farm had a simple, modest house.

Read all of "Kitchen Conversations" by Alexis Draut at the Rome News-Tribune.

Also at Practice Resurrection.