Interview with Jack Shoemaker, Wendell Berry's publisher

FF: One of your correspondents, Wendell Berry, famously wrote that he would never buy a computer. What do you think he got right, and what wrong, in that stance?

JS: Well, I just re-published Why I Won’t Buy a Computer, I just republished that little book in a pamphlet form. Wendell and I—we spoke this morning!—Wendell and I are working on a very big book, a very big book about racism and forgiveness and a lot of stuff. A five-hundred-page book. It’s going to be a book that a lot of people will look at as a kind of bookend to Unsettling of America, I think. And during the process, we’ve been doing this for about five years, we’ve been doing this really often, likely weekly, for two years—the editing. ...

You know, he writes on a long yellow tablet, by hand. And his wife Tanya types the first draft of the manuscript. And he is devoted to her and to her work and extremely responsive to it. After all these years, she becomes, really, in the process, his first editor. And then they make a typescript, and they used to make carbon copies. Now she goes into town and gets a xerox made and sends it to me. So that initial part of the process is all handwork. If he makes changes, I get substitute pages—in hard copy. I don’t get electronic things. I think we both have just so learned to deal at this pace, and when I’m dealing with my other writers, who are all electronic and they’re all hurry-up-and-wait kind of people, it can seem weird to me, compared to what Wendell and I do with each other, which is to take our time. And to be patient with one another. But it does elongate the process, there’s no question. We spend a long time in this work.

Read the whole Fare Forward interview HERE.


On Wendell Berry's 'Our Only World'

Berry’s writing is… unsettling. His focus on forestry and how to do it better might infuriate you. It seems so bloody obvious. [Like a wide-eyed reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring when it was first published – pesticides and insecticides are poisonous and we’re spraying them everywhere?! Or James Baldwin’s eye-opening memoir on race and being Black in America – This is how we treat Black people?!] To do justice to the patience of his feelings, the deep thoughtfulness of his conclusions and the multi-sided reasoning he seems to apply to even the smallest kernel of nature, I must summon something greater than my current gifts.

Instead I clutch to the thematic trunk which elevates Our Only World: how to see and value nature. Berry says – abundantly, patiently – that we can exist within nature, but it cannot be a commoditized, individualized or disposable resource.

Change within ourselves, not simply our lives, but our selves. Can it be done?

Read all of this reflection by Ellen Vrana at The Examind Life.


Listening to Wendell Berry scholar, Jeffrey Bilbro

Over the past few years, Jeffrey Bilbro, Associate Professor of English at Grove City College, has become one of the most lucid and prolific proponents of Wendell Berry's thought. He thinks and writes from an explicitly Christian perspective, helping Christians and others to find and develop more healthful relationships to our home, the earth.

He has lately discussed his work on several internet platforms.

Liberal Arts and Agricultural Arts
"Jeff talks with Leah Bayens, the dean of the Wendell Berry Farming Program. They talk about the program she directs and the challenges and opportunities of uniting liberal arts education with agricultural education."

Faith and Imagination: Virtues of Renewal
"Jeff discusses how Berry’s thinking stands in stark contrast to many of the norms and habits of modern society and how greater mindfulness of some key virtues may help us find moral, spiritual, and social renewal."

Creation Care - "Wendell Berry and Local Place"
"Bilbro’s work on ecology and theology has been heavily influenced by Wendell Berry, an environmental activist and author best known for his book The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. Bilbro calls his readers to a greater ecological and cultural imagination based in the idea of shalom, a vision of relational and community healing in the context of our environment."

And check out these good books:

Virtues of Renewal: Wendell Berry's Sustainable Forms

Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating Virtues of Place (written with Jack R. Baker)

Telling the Stories Right: Wendell Berry’'s Imagination of Port William (edited with Jack R. Baker)


On Wendell Berry's 'The Hidden Wound'

Perhaps the most significant thing in this extended essay, which I felt stands well on its own without the Afterword, is Berry’s courageous acknowledgement of the wound of racism on our national body. It is a wound caused by whites, but one from which whites suffer as well as Blacks. A strength of this work is that he owns his own complicity and his own learning with no “yes, buts.” It is vintage Berry, utterly consistent with other works of his on the dignity of manual work, of knowledge of the land, of caring for place, and of membership in community. What is striking is that Berry here offers a generous vision of community and membership that includes Black and white and the value in the humanity of each person. While Berry downplays systemic issues and may be faulted for this, his integration of issues of race into the larger themes of his work makes this more than merely a writing of place by a rural agriculturalist. It is an essay that discerns the fabric of society we are weaving, the rents in that fabric, and the crucial threads needed for a durable and useful garment.

Read all of "Review: The Hidden Wound" by Bob Trube at Bob on Books.


On Wendell Berry's 'Hannah Coulter'

A family genealogy will not persist for long separated from the place where it was loved into being. This assertion permeates the thought of Wendell Berry, the Kentucky-based philosopher-farmer whose writings affirm the necessary connection of human beings with the soil supporting them. Over the course of dozens of novels and short stories written over the last several decades, Berry explores the interconnected lives of the families and residents of his fictional town of Port William, Kentucky, tracing the town’s history from its first days in the mid-1800s to the community’s decline in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Many of Berry’s stories deal with the theme of modernity’s growing alienation from the earth and human communities, but his 2004 novel Hannah Coulter explicitly addresses this problem through the lens of genealogy. In the eponymous character’s recitation of her own life’s story, uneventful by the world’s standards, Berry proposes that the cure for the woes afflicting our modern lives—especially the constant search for a “better place” away from where we are now—is to return to the place where our families have come from. For Berry, place and genealogy are inseparable. Reconnecting ourselves to our past requires reconnecting ourselves to the soil that sustained our genealogy, which contains the stories of our past and the eschatological hope of our future, of a new earth where we will be reunited with all those who have gone before us.

Read all of "Wendell Berry's Genealogy of Place" by John-Paul Heil at Genealogies of Modernity.


British collection of Wendell Berry Short Fiction reviewed

Berry’s lifelong ruminations on the theme of human community and its ties to the soil culminate in Stand By Me. This collection of 18 short stories, published individually between 1984 and 2015, traces the decline of the fictional, adjoining Kentucky towns of Port William and Hargrave and the lives of the people within them over the course of a century. Berry’s stories follow a “membership” of connected families, from Port William’s early days in 1888 as a rural outpost on the fringes of civilization up to 1981, by which time real estate companies have bought the farms so meticulously and lovingly maintained by generations of Port Williamites and transformed them into purely functional suburban housing. A deep melancholy pervades Berry’s tales of Port William’s later days, as beloved point-of-view characters die off and, unlike in previous generations, are not replaced in the membership by offspring interested in taking up the hard work of maintaining the land. Instead, the young of Port William flock to cities and universities, where they are made either too rich or too smart to ever consider the life of a farmer. Despite being written decades apart, the last few stories in Berry’s collection consistently portray Port William’s future as dire. These stories, the shared culture of generations of centuries-old families like the Feltners, Coulters, Rowanberrys, Catletts, Proudfoots, and Branches, will soon have no one to remember them. Port William’s bucket is being overturned.

Read all of "The Wealth of Intimate History: On Wendell Berry's 'Stand By Me'" by John-Paul Heil in Los Angeles Review of Books.


Reflections on Wendell Berry's The Art of Loading Brush

Despite at times feeling as though my entire life is a casualty of modernity’s ills while reading Berry, “The Art of Loading Brush” is a fantastic book. With an authority and complexity that only comes from experience, Berry’s writing on farming, local communities and human connection to the land is beautifully instructive. The book is a collection of essays, short stories and poems that explore much of what Berry has spent his entire life writing about — considerations of ethics and aesthetics, individual and cultural, in the context of politics, economics and community living.  

Read "My Introduction to Agrarianism" by Sharon Spaulding at The Daily Campus.

And follow it with "An agrarian vocabulary" also by Sharon Spaulding.


Wendell Berry's Preface to the writings of Eric Gill

The manifest failure of the misdirected genius of industrialism, together with the consequently enlarged need for good work, defines newly and urgently the pertinence of the teachings of Eric Gill. Gill (1882-1940) was a Christian, a remarkably versatile artist, and a philosopher remarkable for his willingness to carry principles to the test of practicality. As a thinker, we might say, his genius was for applied culture. Or it may have consisted simply of his ability to see what was perfectly obvious: that the ways and values of the industrial world contradict at every point the traditionally prescribed ways of giving honor to God and Nature and Humankind.

Read all of "Eric Gill and the Integrity of Work" by Wendell Berry at The Progressive.


On Reading Wendell Berry's Fiction

The characters in Port William know each other and know each other’s stories. Sometimes this takes the form of town gossip, but more often than not it exists because the people genuinely know and care about each other. They speak of each other’s families, burdens, and businesses. This knowledge generates a community of mutual respect and concern as well as helping each other see potential areas where they can trip up. For example, Jayber Crow watches with horror as Troy Chatham mishandles his father-in-law’s farm and life’s work. Nathan and Hannah Coulter spot the deficiencies in their daughter’s marriage from a distance before disaster strikes in the form of her husband’s infidelity.

Read all of "What I Learned from Reading Wendell Berry" by Scott Slayton at One Degree to Another.


On the 50th anniversary of Wendell Berry's book on racism

Berry begins The Hidden Wound by reflecting on personal experience, including stories shared in childhood. Learning about his great-grandfather selling an “unmanageable” slave brought home to him the inescapable brutality, the “innate violence,” of slavery. The violence was systemic, and every slave owner complicit. Even a master who did not want to use cruelty had to exercise at least the cruelty of abandonment: selling the slave into cruelty somewhere else.

As Berry notes, many accounts of Southern culture were unable to face this. The oddly nostalgic bookKentucky Cavaliers in Dixie used “a poeticized, romanticized, ornamental gentlemanly speech, so inflated with false sentiment as to sail lightly over all discrepancies in logic or in fact, shrugging off what it cannot accommodate, blandly affirming what it cannot shrug off.” Looking for models of honest treatment of race, Berry even found much Christian preaching evasive, and much Christian practice hypocritical.

Berry saw racism as something constructed to protect a sensitivity. He compares racism to Puritanism; the two “have meshed so perfectly in the United States” because both are contrived to insulate uncomfortable lies from being exposed by the uninhibited honesty of childlike candor. They deny something in human nature in order to enforce an oppressive code of behavior.

Read all of "Race & Anti-fragility" by Joshua P. Hochschild at Commonweal Magazine.