Wendell Berry

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Wendell Berry
A New Harvest, with Wendell Berry, Henry County, KY, 2011 - photograph by Guy Mendes.jpg
Wendell Berry and solar panels on his farm in Henry County, KY, December 2011. Photo by Guy Mendes.
Born(1934-08-05) August 5, 1934 (age 80)
Henry County, Kentucky
OccupationFarmer, writer, academic
EducationUniversity of Kentucky (B.A; M.A., English, 1957)
GenreFiction, poetry, essays
Subjectagriculture, rural life, community
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Wendell Berry
A New Harvest, with Wendell Berry, Henry County, KY, 2011 - photograph by Guy Mendes.jpg
Wendell Berry and solar panels on his farm in Henry County, KY, December 2011. Photo by Guy Mendes.
Born(1934-08-05) August 5, 1934 (age 80)
Henry County, Kentucky
OccupationFarmer, writer, academic
EducationUniversity of Kentucky (B.A; M.A., English, 1957)
GenreFiction, poetry, essays
Subjectagriculture, rural life, community

Wendell Berry (born August 5, 1934) is an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. A prolific author, he has written dozens of novels, short stories, poems, and essays. He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He is also a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Berry was named the recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award.[1]


Berry is the first of four children born to John Marshall Berry, a lawyer and tobacco farmer in Henry County, Kentucky, and Virginia Erdman Berry. The families of both of his parents have farmed in Henry County for at least five generations. Berry attended secondary school at Millersburg Military Institute, then earned a B.A. and M.A. in English at the University of Kentucky, where in 1956 he met another Kentucky writer-to-be, Gurney Norman.[2] In 1957, he completed his M.A. and married Tanya Amyx. In 1958, he attended Stanford University's creative writing program as a Wallace Stegner Fellow, studying under Stegner in a seminar that included Edward Abbey, Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone, Ernest Gaines, Tillie Olsen, and Ken Kesey.[3][4] Berry's first novel, Nathan Coulter, was published in April 1960. A Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship took Berry and his family to Italy and France in 1961, where he came to know Wallace Fowlie, critic and translator of French literature. From 1962 to 1964, he taught English at New York University's University College in the Bronx. In 1964, he began teaching creative writing at the University of Kentucky, from which he resigned in 1977.[4] During this time in Lexington, he came to know author Guy Davenport, as well as author and monk Thomas Merton and photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard.[5]

In 1965, Berry moved to a farm he had purchased, Lane's Landing, and began growing corn and small grains on what eventually became a 125-acre (0.51 km2) homestead. Lane's Landing is in Henry County, Kentucky in north central Kentucky near Port Royal, and his parents' birthplaces, and is on the western bank of the Kentucky River, not far from where it flows into the Ohio River. Berry has farmed, resided, and written at Lane's Landing down to the present day. He has written about his early experiences on the land and about his decision to return to it in essays such as "The Long-Legged House" and "A Native Hill."[6]

In the 1970s and early 1980s, he edited and wrote for the Rodale Press, including its publications Organic Gardening and Farming and The New Farm. From 1987 to 1993, he returned to the English Department of the University of Kentucky.[7][8] Berry has written at least twenty-five books (or chapbooks) of poems, sixteen volumes of essays, and eleven novels and short story collections. His writing is grounded in the notion that one's work ought to be rooted in and responsive to one's place.

Berry, who describes himself as "a person who takes the Gospel seriously,"[9] has criticized Christian organizations for failing to challenge cultural complacency about environmental degradation,[10] and has shown a willingness to criticize what he perceives as the arrogance of some Christians.[11] He is an advocate of Christian pacifism, as shown in his book Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Christ's Teachings About Love, Compassion and Forgiveness (2005).

Berry is a fellow of Britain's Temenos Academy, a learned society devoted to the study of all faiths and spiritual pursuits; Berry publishes frequently in the annual Temenos Academy Review, funded by the Prince of Wales.[12]


On February 10, 1968, Berry delivered "A Statement Against the War in Vietnam" during the Kentucky Conference on the War and the Draft at the University of Kentucky in Lexington:[13]

On June 3, 1979, Berry engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience against the construction of a nuclear power plant at Marble Hill, Indiana. He describes "this nearly eventless event" and expands upon his reasons for it in the essay "The Reactor and the Garden."[15]

On February 9, 2003, Berry's essay titled "A Citizen's Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States" was published as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times. Berry opened the essay—a critique of the G. W. Bush administration's post-9/11 international strategy[16]—by asserting that "The new National Security Strategy published by the White House in September 2002, if carried out, would amount to a radical revision of the political character of our nation."[17]

On January 4, 2009, Berry and Wes Jackson, president of The Land Institute, published an op-ed article in The New York Times titled "A 50-Year Farm Bill."[18] In July 2009 Berry, Jackson and Fred Kirschenmann, of The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, gathered in Washington DC to promote this idea.[19] Berry and Jackson wrote, "We need a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities."[20]

Also in January 2009 Berry released a statement against the death penalty, which began, "As I am made deeply uncomfortable by the taking of a human life before birth, I am also made deeply uncomfortable by the taking of a human life after birth."[21] And in November 2009, Berry and 38 other writers from Kentucky wrote to Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway asking them to impose a moratorium on the death penalty in that state.[22]

On March 2, 2009, Berry joined over 2,000 others in non-violently blocking the gates to a coal-fired power plant in Washington, D.C. No one was arrested.[23]

On May 22, 2009, Berry, at a listening session in Louisville, spoke against the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).[24] He said, "If you impose this program on the small farmers, who are already overburdened, you're going to have to send the police for me. I'm 75 years old. I've about completed my responsibilities to my family. I'll lose very little in going to jail in opposition to your program – and I'll have to do it. Because I will be, in every way that I can conceive of, a non-cooperator."[25]

In October 2009 Berry combined with "the Berea-based Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), along with several other non-profit organizations and rural electric co-op members" to petition against and protest the construction of a coal-burning power plant in Clark County, Kentucky.[26] On February 28, 2011, the Kentucky Public Service Commission approved the cancellation of this power plant.[27]

On September 28, 2010, Berry participated in a rally in Louisville during an EPA hearing on how to manage coal ash. Berry said, "The EPA knows that coal ash is poison. We ask it only to believe in its own findings on this issue, and do its duty."[28]

Berry, with 14 other protesters, spent the weekend of February 12, 2011 locked in the Kentucky governor's office demanding an end to mountaintop removal coal mining. He was part of the environmental group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth that began their sit-in on Friday and left at midday Monday to join about 1,000 others in a mass outdoor rally.[29][30]

In 2011, The Berry Center was established at New Castle, Kentucky, "for the purpose of bringing focus, knowledge and cohesiveness to the work of changing our ruinous industrial agriculture system into a system and culture that uses nature as the standard, accepts no permanent damage to the ecosphere, and takes into consideration human health in local communities."[31]


Berry's nonfiction serves as an extended conversation about the life he values. According to him, the good life includes sustainable agriculture, appropriate technologies, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of good food, husbandry, good work, local economics, the miracle of life, fidelity, frugality, reverence, and the interconnectedness of life. The threats Berry finds to this good simple life include: industrial farming and the industrialization of life, ignorance, hubris, greed, violence against others and against the natural world, the eroding topsoil in the United States, global economics, and environmental destruction. As a prominent defender of agrarian values, Berry's appreciation for traditional farming techniques, such as those of the Amish, grew in the 1970s, due in part to exchanges with Draft Horse Journal publisher Maurice Telleen. Berry has long been friendly to and supportive of Wes Jackson, believing that Jackson's agricultural research at The Land Institute lives out the promise of "solving for pattern" and using "nature as model."

Author Rod Dreher writes that Berry's "unshakable devotion to the land, to localism, and to the dignity of traditional life makes him both a great American and, to the disgrace of our age, a prophet without honor in his native land."[32] Similarly, Bill Kauffman argues that "Among the tragedies of contemporary politics is that Wendell Berry, as a man of place, has no place in a national political discussion that is framed by Gannett and Clear Channel."[32] Historian Richard White calls Berry "the environmental writer who has most thoughtfully tried to come to terms with labor" and "one of the few environmental writers who takes work seriously."[33]

The concept of "Solving for pattern", coined by Berry in his essay[34] of the same title, is the process of finding solutions that solve multiple problems, while minimizing the creation of new problems. The essay was originally published in the Rodale Press periodical The New Farm. Though Mr. Berry's use of the phrase was in direct reference to agriculture, it has since come to enjoy broader use throughout the design community.[35][36]

Berry's core ideas, and in particular his poem "Sabbaths III (Santa Clara Valley)," guided the 2007 feature film Unforeseen, produced by Terrence Malick and Robert Redford.[37] The film's director Laura Dunn stated, "We are of course most grateful to Mr. Berry for sharing his inspired work – his poem served as a guide post for me throughout this, at times meandering, project."[38] Berry appears twice in the film narrating his own poem.[39]


Berry's lyric poetry often appears as a contemporary eclogue, pastoral, or elegy; but he also composes dramatic and historical narratives (such as "Bringer of Water"[40] and "July, 1773",[41] respectively) and occasional and discursive poems ("Against the War in Vietnam"[42] and "Some Further Words",[43] respectively).

Berry's first published poetry book consisted of a single poem, the elegiac November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three (1964), initiated and illustrated by Ben Shahn, commemorating the death of John F. Kennedy. It begins,

We know

The winter earth
Upon the body
Of the young
   And the early dark


and continues through ten more stanzas (each propelled by the anaphora of "We know"). The elegiac here and elsewhere, according to Triggs, enables Berry to characterize the connections "that link past and future generations through their common working of the land."[44]

The first full-length collection, The Broken Ground (1964), develops many of Berry's fundamental concerns: "the cycle of life and death, responsiveness to place, pastoral subject matter, and recurring images of the Kentucky River and the hill farms of north-central Kentucky" [45]

According to Angyal, "There is little modernist formalism or postmodernist experimentation in [Berry's] verse."[46] A commitment to the reality and primacy of the actual world stands behind these two rejections. In "Notes: Unspecializing Poetry," Berry writes, "Devotion to order that is not poetical prevents the specialization of poetry."[47] He goes on to note, "Nothing exists for its own sake, but for a harmony greater than itself which includes it. A work of art, which accepts this condition, and exists upon its terms, honors the Creation, and so becomes a part of it" [48]

Lionel Basney placed Berry's poetry within a tradition of didactic poetry that stretches back to Horace: "To say that Berry's poetry can be didactic, then, means that it envisions a specific wisdom, and also the traditional sense of art and culture that gives art the task of teaching this wisdom"[49]

For Berry, poetry exists "at the center of a complex reminding"[50] Both the poet and the reader are reminded of the poem's crafted language, of the poem's formal literary antecedents, of "what is remembered or ought to be remembered," and of "the formal integrity of other works, creatures and structures of the world.".[51]


Berry's fiction to date consists of eight novels and forty-four short stories (forty-three of which are collected in That Distant Land, 2004 and A Place in Time, 2012) which, when read as a whole, form a chronicle of the fictional small Kentucky town of Port William. Because of his long-term, ongoing exploration of the life of an imagined place, Berry has been compared to William Faulkner.[52] Yet, although Port William is no stranger to murder, suicide, alcoholism, marital discord, and the full range of losses that touch human lives, it lacks the extremes of characterization and plot development that are found in much of Faulkner. Hence Berry is sometimes described as working in an idealized, pastoral, or nostalgic mode, a characterization of his work which he resists: "If your work includes a criticism of history, which mine certainly does, you can't be accused of wanting to go back to something, because you're saying that what we were wasn't good enough." [53]

The effect of profound shifts in the agricultural practices of the United States, and the disappearance of traditional agrarian life,[54] are some of the major concerns of the Port William fiction, though the theme is often only a background or subtext to the stories themselves. The Port William fiction attempts to portray, on a local scale, what "a human economy ... conducted with reverence"[55] looked like in the past—and what civic, domestic, and personal virtues might be evoked by such an economy were it pursued today. Social as well as seasonal changes mark the passage of time. The Port William stories allow Berry to explore the human dimensions of the decline of the family farm and farm community, under the influence of expanding post-World War II agribusiness. But these works rarely fall into simple didacticism, and are never merely tales of decline. Each is grounded in a realistic depiction of character and community. In A Place on Earth (1967), for example, farmer Mat Feltner comes to terms with the loss of his only son, Virgil. In the course of the novel, we see how not only Mat but the entire community wrestles with the acute costs of World War II.

Berry's fiction also allows him to explore the literal and metaphorical implications of marriage as that which binds individuals, families, and communities to each other and to Nature itself—yet not all of Port William is happily or conventionally married. "Old Jack" Beechum struggles with significant incompatibilities with his wife, and with a brief yet fulfilling extramarital affair. The barber Jayber Crow lives with a forlorn, secret, and unrequited love for a woman, believing himself "mentally" married to her even though she knows nothing about it. Burley Coulter never formalizes his bond with Kate Helen Branch, the mother of his son. Yet, each of these men find themselves firmly bound up in the community, the "membership," of Port William.

Hannah Coulter (2004)[edit]

Berry's seventh novel presents a concise vision of Port William's "membership." The story encompasses Hannah's life, including the Great Depression, World War II, the postwar industrialization of agriculture, the flight of youth to urban employment, and the consequent remoteness of grandchildren. The tale is told in the voice of an old woman twice widowed, who has experienced much loss yet has never been defeated. Somehow, lying at the center of her strength is the "membership"—the fact that people care for each other and, even in absence, hold each other in a kind of presence. All in all, Hannah Coulter embodies many of the themes of Berry's Port William saga.



Uncollected stories[edit]


Uncollected essays[edit]



Forewords, introductions, prefaces, and afterwords[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dayton Literary Peace Prize names distinguished achievement award recipient". Dayton Daily News. August 12, 2013. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  2. ^ Wendell Berry. My Conversation with Gurney Norman. Retrieved 2010-07-30. 
  3. ^ Menand, Louis (January 7, 2009). "Show or Tell: A Critic at Large: The New Yorker". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  4. ^ a b Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995, 139 ISBN 0-8057-4628-5
  5. ^ Davenport, Guy. "Tom and Gene" in Father Louie: Photographs of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard. New York: Timken, 1991.
  6. ^ Both published in The Long-Legged House. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1969 (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004).
  7. ^ Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995, ISBN 0-8057-4628-5
  8. ^ The Quivira Coalition's 6th Annual Conference, conference bulletin, page 14
  9. ^ "The Brian Lehrer Show". WNYC.org. October 17, 2013.  "I'm not a Baptist in any formal way. I go to the Baptist church, where my wife plays the piano, on days of bad weather. On days of good weather, I ramble off into the woods somewhere. I am a person who takes the Gospel seriously, but I have had trouble conforming my thoughts to a denomination."
  10. ^ Berry, Wendell. "Christianity and the Survival of Creation". Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community. New York: Pantheon, 1993
  11. ^ "Well, Christendom is all right, but it doesn't have to exclude everybody else. It doesn't have to go to war against them. And it doesn't have to be so stupid as to condemn other faiths that it doesn't know anything about." in Rose Marie Berger, "Heaven in Henry County: A Sojourner Interview with Wendell Berry."
  12. ^ "Key Individuals of The Temenos Academy". Temenosacademy.org. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  13. ^ Berry, Wendell. The Long-Legged House. Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004. 64
  14. ^ Vance, Laurence (December 4, 2006) Bill Kauffman: American Anarchist, LewRockwell.com
  15. ^ Berry, Wendell. The Gift of Good Land. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2009. 161–170
  16. ^ The National Security Strategy, September 2002
  17. ^ Berry, Wendell. "A Citizen's Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States" Orion Magazine
  18. ^ Jackson, Wes and Wendell Berry. "A 50-Year Farm Bill
  19. ^ "3 Wise Men, Planting Ideas Where It Counts" Washington Post, July 22, 2009
  20. ^ Jackson, Wes and Wendell Berry. "A 50-Year Farm Bill"
  21. ^ Danzig U.S.A.
  22. ^ Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
  23. ^ Democracy Now
  24. ^ Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
  25. ^ Food Renegade
  26. ^ The Richmond Register
  27. ^ PSC Approves EKPC Request To Cancel Power Plant
  28. ^ The Rural Blog
  29. ^ Democracy Now!
  30. ^ Bloomberg News
  31. ^ The Berry Center
  32. ^ a b Dreher, Rod (June 5, 2006) All-American Anarchists, The American Conservative
  33. ^ White, Richard. "'Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?': Work and Nature." Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. Ed. William Cronon. New York: Norton, 1995. 179.
  34. ^ Berry, Wendell, The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural. San Francisco: North Point, 1981, ISBN 0-86547-052-9
  35. ^ Orr, David. "The Designer's Challenge" (commencement address to the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania, on May 14, 2007) The Designer's Challenge
  36. ^ Luoni, Stephen. "Solving for Pattern: Development of Place-Building Design Models"
  37. ^ The poem has been published only in the limited edition chapbook Sabbaths 1987. (Monterey, Kentucky: Larkspur, 1991).
  38. ^ Wendell Berry's poem "Santa Clara Valley"[dead link]
  39. ^ Variety: The Unforeseen Movie Review From The Sundance Film Festival
  40. ^ Farming: A Hand Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1970.
  41. ^ A Part. San Francisco: North Point, 1980.
  42. ^ Openings. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1968.
  43. ^ Given: New Poems. Washington D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard. 2005.
  44. ^ Triggs, Jeffery. "Moving the Dark to Wholeness." 1988.
  45. ^ Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995, 119. ISBN 0-8057-4628-5.
  46. ^ Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995, 116
  47. ^ Berry, Wendell. Standing by Words. San Francisco: North Point, 1983, 80.
  48. ^ Berry, Wendell. Standing by Words. San Francisco: North Point, 1983, 85.
  49. ^ Basney, Lionel. 175. "Five Notes on the Didactic Tradition, in Praise of Wendell Berry" in Paul Merchant, editor. Wendell Berry (American Authors Series). Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence, 1991. 174–183.
  50. ^ Berry, Wendell. "The Responsibility of the Poet." What Are People For? New York: North Point, 1990. 88.
  51. ^ Berry, Wendell. "The Responsibility of the Poet." What Are People For? New York: North Point, 1990. 89.
  52. ^ Goodrich, Janet. The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry. U of Missouri P, 2001. 21.
  53. ^ Fisher-Smith, Jordan. "Field Observations: An Interview with Wendell Berry".
  54. ^ Cochrane, Willard Wesley. The Development of American Agriculture: A Historical Analysis. U of Minnesota P, 1993. 122–149.
  55. ^ Berry, Wendell. "Imagination in Place." The Way of Ignorance. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005. 50.
  56. ^ "Web Exclusive: Wendell Berry interview complete text, Sojourners Magazine/July 2004". Sojo.net. Retrieved 2010-07-30. 
  57. ^ "Field Observations". Arts.envirolink.org. Retrieved 2010-07-30. 
  58. ^ "Wendell Berry". WNYC.org. 2013-10-17. Retrieved 2013-11-02. 
  59. ^ "A Citizen and a Native:". Nantahalareview.org. November 16, 2003. Retrieved 2010-07-30. 
  60. ^ Merchant, Paul, ed. Wendell Berry (American Authors Series). Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence, 1991.
  61. ^ "Wendell Berry Interview". Web.archive.org. February 6, 2006. Archived from the original on February 6, 2006. Retrieved 2010-07-30. 
  62. ^ "Monday, November 30, 2009 | The Diane Rehm Show from WAMU and NPR". Wamu.org. November 30, 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-30. 
  63. ^ "Friday, October 4, 2013". Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  64. ^ http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/wendell-berry-burkean/
  65. ^ http://www.artsandletters.org/awards2_popup.php?abbrev=Academy
  66. ^ "The Aiken Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry – The Sewanee Review". Sewanee.edu. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  67. ^ An award coordinated by Orion Magazine and the Orion Society "was presented annually to writers whose work has been vital to the effort to reconnect people to the natural world" https://orionmagazine.org/about/mission-and-history/
  68. ^ http://www.brockport.edu/newsbureau/647.html
  69. ^ "Forlimpopoli: arriva il poeta americano Wendell Berry". Romagnaoggi.it. October 24, 2007. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  70. ^ "Kentucky author Wendell Berry to be awarded National Humanities Medal"
  71. ^ "It All Turns on Affection" The Jefferson Lecture 2012 by Wendell E. Berry
  72. ^ "2013 Fellows and Their Affiliations at the Time of Election"
  73. ^ "http://www.rooseveltinstitute.org/2013-four-freedoms-awards" "The Four Freedoms Awards"
  74. ^ [1]
  75. ^ "Wendell Berry Receives Marty Award". aarweb.org. American Academy of Religion. Retrieved October 21, 2014. 
  76. ^ http://carnegiecenterlex.org/2015/02/kentucky-writers-hall-fame-wendell-berrys-remarks/

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]