At the Kentucky Book Fair on November 17, 2018, Wendell “I don’t take what I write all that seriously” Berry spoke with Jon Parrish Peede, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The event was moderated by Dr. Morris Grubbs of The University of Kentucky. HERE IS A LINK to an audio recording of that conversation.
Berry’s dreams do emerge in his essays, and of course they inform them. His poems, appearing in dozens of publications across these decades, make his hope more vivid, more musical. But to see Berry’s dreaming vision of our world fully laid out, one must go to his fiction. In the early 1960s he began to publish an entwined series of stories centered on the fictional town of Port William in northern Kentucky, a town “without pretense or ambition,” as one of his narrators recalls, “for it was the sort of place that pretentious or ambitious people were inclined to leave.” To date Berry has produced eight novels and more than fifty short stories (along with some poems and at least one play) about this place, magical in its lowliness and mythical in its ordinariness—a fantasia of democratic, republican proportions. If it’s a profoundly flawed world, it is yet, in Berry’s telling, a good one. And therein lies his hope.
Read all of "Reign of Love: The Fiction of Wendell Berry" by Eric Miller at Commonweal Magazine.
The Columbia State Community College philosophy department will host a philosophy invitational featuring Dr. Lucius Outlaw, Vanderbilt University professor of philosophy, and Dr. Peter Kuryla, Belmont University associate professor of history, Nov. 15 at 6 p.m. in the Community Room located on the Williamson Campus.
At the invitational, the presenters will discuss “The Hidden Wound,” by Wendell Berry, in acknowledgement of the work’s 50th anniversary.
“The tumultuous events of 1968 prompted Wendell Berry to reevaluate how his childhood experiences with racial relations on a Kentucky farm informed his awareness of the festering social problem of racism, which he deems unavoidable until the source can be examined within the framework of our social inheritance and we truly begin to recognize the humanity in every individual."
Find more information at The Williamson Herald.
Paul Swanson in conversation with Chad Wriglesworth:
Chad Wriglesworth is a professor (at St. Jerome’s University), literary critic, book editor and writer. What most strikes me about Chad is his love of words. You will hear in our conversation how he lights up on the poetic turn of phrase, or a word that is precise enough to communicate exactly what is intended. Chad compiled and edited the letters for Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. This book is riveting and I begged it not to end. The tone, tenor and rhythm of the letters are the manifestations from the lives of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. If you are a fan of this podcast, you are no stranger to hearing about Wendell Berry; Kentucky agrarian, poet, novelist, essayist, to name just a few of his attributes. Gary Snyder is also a man of letters from the same generation and equally as counter-culture but from another slant. Snyder is a poet, Zen Buddhist, essayist and leans into a more hunter-gatherer philosophical stance.
To here the conversation, visit Contemplify.
The idea that there’s always more deeply drives our way of life and informs the way we think of possessions, science, knowledge, and technology. To think otherwise is horrifying to many people. In his 2008 essay “Faustian Economics: Hell Hath No Limits,” Wendell Berry mourns the effects of the “doctrine of limitlessness” on our culture and calls for “the self-restraints implied in neighborliness, stewardship, thrift, temperance, generosity, care, kindness, friendship, loyalty, and love.” He continues, “There is now a growing perception…that we are entering a time of inescapable limits.” As the illusion of limitlessness fades, we will “come under pressure to understand ourselves as limited creatures in a limited world.”
Like Berry, we are grieved by the damaging consequences of the human race’s unrestrained actions on both personal and global levels. Becoming aware of our limits is sobering, but, in the end, results in the fulfillment of our better longings. According to Berry, there’s another way to think about constraints: “Our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements…to fullness of relationship and meaning.”
Read all of "The Quiet Work of Caring: Establishing Life-Giving Boundaries Within and Without" by Jenna Henderson and Kimberly Miller at The Englewood Review of Books.
The Membership is a podcast inspired by the life and work of Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer, poet, novelist, essayist, activist, and thinker.
Our goal at The Membership is to curate great conversations that contribute to the health of the land and the health of our communities.
Join hosts Jason Hardy, John Pattison, and Tim Wasem as we discuss Berry's life and writings. We’ll also interview other folks—farmers and makers, writers and artists, and community practitioners of all kinds—who are responding to Wendell Berry's writings in their own places.
Visit The Membership and sign up to receive updates.
Baker and Bilbro are not naive about the herculean nature of their task. For instance, in his 2004 novel, Hannah Coulter, a story about an older farming widow who reflects on the changes in her community since the 1930s (the authors use Berry’s novels throughout to frame their critique of and proposals for higher education), Hannah laments the affects of universities on her children. “After each one of our children went away to the university,” she recalls, “there always came a time when we would feel the distance opening to them, pulling them away. It was like sitting snug in the house, and a door is opened somewhere, and suddenly you feel a draft” (2). In other words, universities and colleges thrive on Americans’ ambition for getting ahead and for social mobility. These institutions do not educate students in a manner that encourages them to appreciate families and home or that rewards them for returning to the communities that shaped them. Rather, American higher education becomes a vehicle for escaping the constraints of local life and for acquiring skills that will reward students with a “better” way of life—one with greater wealth and convenience, and that is less limited by the demands of work that is necessary (production of food, maintenance of land and structures, elimination of waste). The tension between agrarianism and the ideals of contemporary higher education are downright enormous. At one point, Baker and Bilbro concede that the modern university may be beyond “hope of recovery” (17).
Agrarianism is the theme he returns to with great regularity and is also the subject of his best-known book, the 1977 classic The Unsettling of America, a compressed version of which is included in this collection. A good part of Berry’s career has involved excoriating mechanized, chemicalized mega-farming as a brutal, life-threatening assault that kills the soil and sends it down the river, guts farming communities, renders moot our relationship to animals and sky and other people, and widens a dualism between us and the earth that is ruining our health, our minds, our ability to live satisfying lives, and the American (and global) culture.
These works are mostly about small-town America, and mostly set on Berry’s farm at Lane’s Landing, once a riverboat stop on the Kentucky River near Port Royal, Kentucky. But not one word stoops to smug nostalgia. He is instead trying to prove that science and economics happen in a place: he draws endlessly and non-repetitively on the deep well of the lived truth of farm life, which delivers up sweet, clear lines of poetry and local lore and a kind of immediate authenticity.
That authority is the reason we read Wendell Berry. When he tells us precisely what ails us as a nation, that a “Faustian economics” of “corporate fundamentalism” fuels a “world-ending fire” of limitless consumerism that is our ruin, we believe him. We want to scream it from the rooftops. But he goes a step further. He doesn’t leave the question begged, but answers it:
Small solutions, unrelentingly practical, that will be made by individuals in relation to small parcels of land.
Read all of "How to Fight the Fire" by Dean Kuipers at Los Angeles Review of Books.
I want to consider the psychology of Wendell Berry—not analyze Berry the author but rather probe the way that he sees the world. Berry has made his living as a thinker and writer but also as a farmer, and his unique connection to land and rootedness has much to offer those of us who feel unmoored.
Berry writes about the history of his Kentucky home in “A Native Hill.” He traces his family’s roots there to his maternal great-great-grandfather and his paternal great-grandfather, although the fog of time makes the details hazy. Berry grew to know the place intimately during his childhood, a connection forged more intensely due to the absence of mechanical means with which to farm the earth. When Berry left a comfortable teaching position at New York University to return, it was the first time that he chose the place, and his return made all the difference. Berry knows when his family began to live on the same acres which he occupies, but he is not naive about the fact that others lived there long before. According to Berry, “I am forever being crept up on and newly startled by the realization that my people established themselves here by killing or driving out the original possessors, by the awareness that people were once bought and sold here by my people, by the sense of the violence they have done to their own kind and to each other and to the earth, by the evidence of their persistent failure to serve either the place or their own community in it.”
Read all of "The Past is Our Definition" by Jonathan Foiles at Psychology Today.
Jayber Crow broke my heart in exactly the way I needed it to be broken, allowing my changing-times sadness and confusion to flow.
Jayber’s growth of soul as he narrates his life from 1914 to 1986 (being Port William’s barber for 32 of those years) grew on me.
If you’ve been grieving the losses that have come with a modernized, technologically driven age, Wendell Berry can’t get the gifts of the past back for you, but he can help you honor them with an unsentimental grief.
He can help your soul to grow through facing those losses with an honest remembering and gratitude. He can help you consider what changes you might make in order live at least a little closer to what you believe.
Berry can even help you see your need to forgive yourself along with everyone else who, in greater or lesser degrees, allowed the lessening of localism and the desecration of the land to happen.
Read all of "Becoming Rememberers: How Wendell Berry Helps Us Grieve Our Time’s Tragic Tradeoffs" by Peggy Haslar at Sparrowfare.