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.


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.


Nick Offerman and Wendell Berry

I have often asserted that if my job were simply to broadcast the works of Wendell Berry to the world, I’d die a happy man. It turns out that Mary Berry is doing just that, with her work at the Berry Center, and so I do my best to support her efforts as best I can, because she knows what the hell she is talking about. They have a few programs supporting and educating small, local farming concerns, which is what our entire country if not the whole damn planet needs. The portions of Wendell’s writing and Mary’s hands-on nurturing that focus on rural, manageably sized economies are very inspiring to me, and it’s not just the two of them, of course. They have a lot of family involved, and neighbors into the bargain. I appreciate the example they set, which is why I try to be a good cheerleader for their efforts.

Read all of "Nick Offerman on the Essential Wisdom of Wendell Berry" at Lit Hub.


"Darker and darker," concerning a Wendell Berry quote

When Advent arrives each year, we find a flurry of folks quoting and re-quoting this fine sentence, "It gets darker and darker, and then Jesus is born." This is often, but not always, attributed to Wendell Berry. And it is sometimes attributed to something Wendell Berry has written. Yet, to my knowledge, he has not actually used it in any of his works.

The source is, in fact, Wendell Berry via Anne Lamott, who used it in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2006). Here is the relevant page:

From Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith By Anne Lamott 2006


On Wendell Berry, Counterfeit Meaning, Footwear, Grace, Etc.

Much of Berry’s fiction and essays can sound a bit like a Romans commentary. He writes with a true-to-life low anthropology that perfectly frames the miracle of grace. We see bits of this in a 2019 interview he did with the activist Tim DeChristopher, the transcript of which was recently published by Orion Magazine. In a terrific shot by Guy Mendes, provided with the article, we see the much younger DeChristopher sitting across from Berry in what look to be living room chairs pulled out onto the front porch of the Berrys’ home, a border collie stretched out between them. I think Wendell managed to pull off his bold sartorial choice of black socks and sandals with style. The two don’t waste much time on pleasantries, DeChristopher starting off the conversation with a light hors d’oeuvre of nihilism.
 
    DeChristopher: We’re not just blowing things apart; we’re changing our own DNA in a way that makes human existence meaningless.

    Berry: I don’t think humans have any power over meaning. Meaning is given to us. We can’t make meaning.

    DeChristopher: I don’t agree with that. We make meaning all the time.

    Berry: The ability of humans even to discover meaning is very limited. They counterfeit meaning all the time.

Read all of "Wendell Berry Wants to Shoot a Drone" by Josh Retterer at Mockingbird.


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.


On Wendell Berry and Gracy Olmstead

As a writer and farmer, Wendell Berry has plowed the same plot of Kentucky hillside for nearly sixty years. The themes he tenderly brings to life in his novels and short stories—all of which are set in and around the fictional village of Port William, Kentucky—are the same he explores with rigor and subtlety in his nonfiction and poetry. His focus across all literary forms is community built on fidelity to neighbor, creation, and Creator.

Recently, Gracy Olmstead, a friend of Strong Towns, wrote an excellent piece about re-reading Berry’s classic essay, “Health Is Membership,” in light of the COVID-19 crisis. She begins, as Berry does, by reminding us that the word “health” stems from the same root as the word “whole.” To be healthy is to be whole. Therefore, full health—“health as wholeness”—can’t be considered in isolation from the health of the “culture, community, and ecology. It rejects the separation of family from family, as well as the specialized view of the self that severs body from soul—or even parts of our body from other parts.”

Read all of "We Approach Our World like a Machine" by John Pattison at Strong Towns.