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 a critique of Wendell Berry by George Scialabba

What good, though, is a changed life in an unchanged world? It is true that Berry, albeit always an urgent and sometimes an angry writer, does not hitch his prescriptions to the prospects of success. He is something of a hopeful pessimist. And so his “advice,” as Scialabba calls it, though not a strategy for winning, can be described as offering a vision for living with integrity whether or not one wins. Which means, to put the matter more sharply, it is a portrait of how to live without despair when losing is likely. For the likelihood of loss is unbearable only if value—the goodness of a neighborly deed, the beauty of a creek at sunset—arises from consequences, not from things as they are in themselves.

For half a century, Berry’s poetry and prose have bristled with irritation, outrage and indignation. But it has always lacked what Scialabba, I think, wishes he found in it: desperation. The absence of desperation is not, from Berry’s perspective, a failure to recognize the gravity of the situation. Nor does he recommend private virtue as a solution. His posture, rather, is a conscious decision rooted at once in a way of apprehending the world—as a gift that precedes and encompasses us, what Marilynne Robinson calls “the givenness of things”—and a corresponding response that accepts one’s place in it. Such a stance of humility and gratitude is not one among other viable options. The world calls it forth in us. Without it, we are lost.

Read all of "When Losing is Likely" by Brad East in The Point Magazine.


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.


On Wendell Berry and Conservatism

Farmer and author Wendell Berry describes such giving in his novel Hannah Coulter — describing the dynamic of the story’s Kentuckian community: 

“Work was freely given in exchange for work freely given. There was no bookkeeping, no accounting, no settling up. What you owed was considered paid when you had done what needed doing. Every account was paid in full by the understanding that when we were needed we would go, and when we had need the others, or enough of them, would come.”
 
In the small Kentucky village of Berry’s novel, we see the essence of a conservative solution: a care outside of oneself, a giving and edification of one’s family, community, and place. It exemplifies the epitomé of building something beautiful — the manifestation of conservatism well done. More explicitly, we might call this giving the virtue of charity, synonymous with love. Aquinas calls charity a type of friendship, ultimately “the friendship of man for God” (ST II-II, 23, I), but so too a sharing in life with others, a joint pursuit of the good.

Charity, and thus human flourishing, is contingent upon our relationships with others, of preserving and edifying those bonds and institutions that give life meaning. As Wendell Berry states: “A human community, then, if it is to last long, must exert a sort of centripetal force, holding local soil and local memory in place.”

Read all of "Wendell Berry, Beauty, and the Future of Conservatism" by Samul Samson at The Texas Horn.


A Critique of Wendell Berry's "The Pleasures of Eating"

At the end of the essay, Berry juxtaposes the emptiness of industrial eating with what he calls “extensive pleasure.” This is the pleasure that is not wedded to the sensual, tactile, or gustatory—what Berry terms the pleasure of the “mere gourmet”—but emerges from “one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.” The pleasure of eating for Berry is not intrinsic to the experience of eating, but extrinsic to it, deriving instead from the knowledge of the food’s journey from life to plate. Which is to say that, he is not, in fact, talking about the pleasure of eating in any sort of conventional, literal, or phenomenological sense. Rather what we have here is a repackaging of the pleasure of work: you can only take real satisfaction from the memory of the labor and care you invested in whatever it is you are munching on. This becomes all the more apparent when we read Berry’s program for how the “industrial eater” can obtain extensive pleasure, which Berry dubiously asserts “is pretty fully available to the urban consumer who will make the necessary effort.” Want pleasure? Get to work! Berry’s suggestions are a familiar list of foodie chores: 1) “Participate in food production to the extent that you can.” 2) “Prepare your own food.” 3) “Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home.” 4) “Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist.” 5) “Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production.” 6) “Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.” 7) “Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of the food species.”

Read all of "Sexuality Studies for Foodies" by Gabriel Rosenberg at The Strong Paw of Reason.


On Wendell Berry, Good Work, and Hope

The Kentucky farmer and essayist Wendell Berry seeks a third way, the way of hope. For Berry, good work is worth doing regardless of whether it will fix our global problems. By grounding ultimate hope in a given redemption, he is freed to do good work without having the impossible pressure of fixing global problems. So while some of the many technological and political ideas bandied about are worth pursuing, such solutions are a poor foundation for hope because they will inevitably disappoint us: no technology can make us live forever, and no political system can make us live in harmony with one another. If global efficacy is the standard of our work, then most of us have no good work to do. As Berry writes in regard to environmental challenges, “If we think the future damage of climate change to the environment is a big problem only solvable by a big solution, then thinking or doing something in particular becomes more difficult, perhaps impossible.”

Read all of  "Labours of Love" by Jeffrey Bilbro at Comment Magazine.

 


A city pastor finds common ground with Wendell Berry

While it may seem that a city lover and return to rural advocate have little in common, Berry has many themes that apply across many locations. A central theme for Berry is commitment to place and specifically commitment to places the modern economy says are not worth much. For Berry himself this is rural Kentucky. So, whether it be in poetry, essay, or short story form Berry is a tireless advocate for the place of the small farm in rural lands. The rural family farm is not only worth something, but in a strange way capable of providing a better life than the one our modern economy offers.

Read all of "Wendell Berry and a City Pastor" by David Kamphuis at The Fire Escape.