It’s no accident that the book’s opening and concluding chapters focus on the failures of public speech. Such discourse perpetuates the abstractions of prejudice and stereotypes and inevitably authorizes violence toward its objects. At one point, near the end of a lengthy passage exploring Ernest Gaines’s novel A Gathering of Old Men, Berry voices a question that many readers will surely have: “What is the use, in a book about race relations, of paying so much attention to language? . . . I think it is necessary, because the usefulness of our conversation about this subject, if ever we are to have an authentic one, will depend on the kind and quality of the language we use.” Practicing authentic conversation and finding healthy language have long been at the heart of Berry’s work. In the introduction to The Art of Loading Brush, Berry sums up his many years of writing as his “struggle to find or recover the language necessary to speak, in the same breath, of work and love.” That struggle continues in this new book, and what unites the many strands that run through its nearly 500 pages is his effort to imagine a public conversation rooted in love rather than fear and oriented toward good work rather than abstract or merely symbolic victories.
Read all of "Practicing Authentic Conversation" by Jeffrey Bilbro at Front Porch Republic.