Wendell Berry

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry at the Frankfort, Indiana Community Public Library, 4 November 2005
Born: August 5, 1934
Henry County, Kentucky
Occupation: Farmer, Writer
Nationality: United States
Writing period: 20th-21st Centuries
Genres: Fiction, Poetry, Essays
Debut works: Nathan Coulter, 1960

The Broken Ground, 1964

The Rise, 1968
Influences: Homer, Virgil, William Shakespeare, Andrew Marvell, Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, John Burroughs, Sidney Lanier, Franklin Hiram King, William Butler Yeats, Albert Howard, William Carlos Williams, Aldo Leopold, William Faulkner, Kenneth Rexroth, Harry M. Caudill, Wallace Stegner
Influenced: James Baker Hall, Wes Jackson, Scott Russell Sanders, Bill McKibben, Barbara Kingsolver, Terry Tempest Williams

Wendell Berry (born August 5, 1934, Henry County, Kentucky) is an American man of letters, academic, cultural and economic critic, and farmer. He is a prolific author of novels, short stories, poems, and essays. He is also an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Ideas in Berry's work
  • 3 The Port William fiction
  • 4 Quotations
  • 5 Works
    • 5.1 Fiction
    • 5.2 Nonfiction
    • 5.3 Poetry
    • 5.4 Interviews
    • 5.5 Awards
  • 6 Books about Berry
  • 7 See also
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links


Berry is the first of four children born to John Berry, a lawyer and tobacco farmer in Henry County, and Virginia 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. In 1957, he completed his M.A. and married Tanya Amyx. In 1958, he attended Stanford University's creative writing program thanks to a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, studying under Stegner in a seminar that included Larry McMurtry, Edward Abbey, and Ken Kesey. In April 1960, Berry's first novel, Nathan Coulter, was published. In 1961, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship took Berry and his family to Italy and France, where he came to know Wallace Fowlie, professor of French at Duke University. 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.[1]

In 1965, Berry moved to a farm he had purchased, Lane's Landing, and began growing tobacco, corn and small grains on what eventually grew into a 125-acre homestead. Lane's Landing is near Port Royal, Kentucky, in northwestern Kentucky, and his parents' birthplaces, and is on the banks 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. 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.[2][3]

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.

Ideas in Berry's work

His nonfiction serves as an extended conversation about the life he values. According to Berry, 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 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. Berry is among the most eloquent of contemporary Christian authors, frequently referring to the Gospels, the stewardship of Creation, and peacemaking.

Berry is a major defender of agrarian values. His 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."

"Solving for pattern", coined by Berry in his essay[4] 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.[5][6]

The Port William fiction

Berry's fiction to date consists of eight novels and twenty-three short stories (the short stories are collected in That Distant Land, 2004) 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. Yet, although Port William is no stranger to murder, suicide, alcoholism, and the full range of losses that touch human lives, it lacks the extreme delineation of character and plot that characterize 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." [7]

The effect of profound shifts in the agricultural practices of the United States, and the disappearance of traditional agrarian life, 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" [8] 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. Readers of Berry's essays can appreciate that the Port William stories allow the author 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 an honest 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.

Berry's novel, Hannah Coulter (2004), presents a concise vision of Port William's "membership." The story encompasses Hannah's life, including the Great Depression, World War II, the post-war 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.


  • "We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it." ("A Native Hill" in The Long-Legged House, 1969, Recollected Essays, 1981, and The Art of the Commonplace, 2002)
  • "What I stand for
    is what I stand on."
    ("Below" in A Part, 1980)
  • "Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy."("Economy and Pleasure" in What are People For?, 1990)
  • "Laugh.
    Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
    though you have considered all the facts."
    ("Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" in Farming: A Hand Book, 1970)
  • "Eating is an agricultural act." ("The Pleasures of Eating" in What are People For?, 1990)
  • So, friends, every day do something
    that won't compute. Love the Lord.
    Love the world. Work for nothing.
    Take all that you have and be poor.
    Love someone who does not deserve it.
    Denounce the government and embrace
    the flag. Hope to live in that free
    republic for which it stands.
    Give your approval to all you cannot
    understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
    has not encountered he has not destroyed.
    ("Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" in Farming: A Hand Book, 1970)
  • "There is no sense and no sanity in objecting to the desecration of the American flag when we tolerate, encourage, and as a daily business promote the desecration of the Country for which it stands."(Citation needed)
  • "The line that connects the bombing of civilian populations to the mountain removed by strip mining. to the tortured prisoner seems to run pretty straight. We're living, it seems, in the culmination of a long warfare -- warfare against human beings, other creatures and the Earth itself." (Lindsey Wilson College commencement, 14 May 2005)
  • "Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm - which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commercial fertilizer. The genius of America farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems." (Citation needed)
  • "It may be when we no longer know what to do, We have come to our real work, And that when we no longer know which way to go, We have begun our real journey."(Citation needed)
  • "To be sane in a mad time
    is bad for the brain, worse
    for the heart."
    ("The Mad Farmer Manifesto: The First Amendment" in The Country of Marriage, 1973)
  • "Cheap at any price"(Citation needed)



  • Nathan Coulter, 1960 novel
  • A Place on Earth, 1967 novel, revised 1983
  • The Memory of Old Jack, 1974 novel
  • The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership, 1986
  • Remembering, 1988 novel
  • The Discovery of Kentucky, 1991 story
  • Fidelity: Five Stories, 1992
  • Watch with Me: And Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née Quinch, 1994
  • A World Lost, 1997 novel
  • Two More Stories Of The Port William Membership, 1997
  • Jayber Crow, 2000 novel
  • Sonata At Payne Hollow, 2001 play
  • Three Short Novels: Nathan Coulter; Remembering; A World Lost, 2002
  • That Distant Land : The Collected Stories of Wendell Berry, 2004
  • Hannah Coulter, 2004 novel
  • Andy Catlett : Early Travels, 2006 novel


  • The Hidden Wound, 1970
  • The Long-Legged House, 1971
  • A Continuous Harmony : Essays Cultural and Agricultural, 1971
  • The Unforeseen Wilderness: An Essay on Kentucky's Red River Gorge, 1971
  • The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 1978 essays
  • Recollected Essays, 1965-1980, 1981
  • The Gift of Good Land; Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural, 1981
  • Standing by Words, 1983
  • Meeting the Expectations of the Land: Essays in Sustainable Agriculture and Stewardship, 1984 editor with Wes Jackson and Bruce Colman
  • Home Economics, 1987
  • What Are People For?, 1990
  • Descendants and Ancestors of Captain James W. Berry, 1990 with Laura Berry
  • Standing on Earth, 1991 essays
  • What can turn us from this deserted future... , 1991 broadside
  • The Discovery of Kentucky, 1991
  • Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work, 1992 biography
  • Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community : Eight Essays, 1993
  • Another Turn of the Crank, 1995 essays
  • Three On Community, 1996 essays
  • Late Harvest: Rural American Writing, 1996
  • Waste Land: Meditations on a Ravaged Landscape, 1997 with Mark Dowie and David T. Hanson
  • Grace, Photographs of Rural America, 2000 with Gregory Spaid and Gene Logsdon
  • Life Is a Miracle : An Essay Against Modern Superstition, 2001
  • In the Presence of Fear: Three Essays for a Changed World, 2001
  • The Art Of The Commonplace The Agrarian Essays Of Wendell Berry, 2002 edited by Norman Wirzba
  • Citizens Dissent: Security, Morality, and Leadership In An Age Of Terror, 2003
  • Citizenship Papers, 2003
  • Tobacco Harvest: An Elegy by James Baker Hall, Wendell Berry (Contributor), 2004
  • The Way of Ignorance, November 2005
  • Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Christ's Teachings of Love, Compassion, and Forgiveness, November 2005
  • The Unforeseen Wilderness : Kentucky's Red River Gorge by Wendell Berry, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, March 2006


  • November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three, 1964 poem
  • The Broken Ground, 1964
  • Openings, 1968
  • Findings, 1969
  • Farming: A Handbook, 1970
  • The Country of Marriage, 1973
  • Sayings & Doings, 1975
  • To What Listens, 1975
  • Horses, 1975 chapbook poem
  • Kentucky River, Two Poems, 1976
  • There is Singing Around Me, 1976
  • Clearing, 1977
  • Three Memorial Poems, 1977
  • The Gift of Gravity, 1979
  • A Part, 1980
  • The Salad, 1980 chapbook poem
  • The Wheel, 1982
  • From the Distance, 1982 broadside
  • Collected Poems 1957-1982, 1985
  • The Wild Rose, 1986 broadside
  • The Landscape of Harmony, 1987
  • Sabbaths, 1987
  • I go from the woods into the cleared field, 1987 broadside poem
  • Traveling at Home, 1989
  • Sayings & Doings and An Eastward Look, 1990
  • Entries: Poems, 1994
  • A Timbered Choir:The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997, 1998
  • Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1998
  • Sabbaths 2002, 2004 chapbook
  • Given, 2005


  • "Field Observations: An Interview with Wendell Berry'" by Jordan Fisher-Smith [1]
  • "Wendell Berry interview complete text," by Rose Marie Berger. Sojourner's Magazine, July 2004 [2]
  • "A Question a Day: A Written Conversation with Wendell Berry" by Mindy Weinreb in Merchant[9]
  • "Wendell Berry" in: Conversations With Kentucky Writers, L. Elisabeth Beattie (Editor). U P of Kentucky, 1996.


  • Guggenheim Fellowship & Rockefeller Fellowships
  • Jean Stein Award
  • T.S. Eliot Award
  • 2000 Poets' Prize for The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
  • Thomas Merton Award, 1999
  • Aiken Taylor Award for poetry
  • John Hay Award
  • Art of Fact Award, 2006 for non-fiction
  • Kentuckian of the Year 2006 from Kentucky Monthly, for his writing and his efforts to bring attention to environmental issues in eastern Kentucky.

Books about Berry

  • Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995.
  • Goodrich, Janet. The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2001.
  • Merchant, Paul, ed. Wendell Berry (American Authors Series). Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence, 1991.
  • Peters, Jason, ed. Wendell Berry: Life and Work. Lexington: U P of Kentucky, 2007.
  • Smith, Kimberly K. Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition: A Common Grace. Lawrence: U P of Kansas, 2003.

See also

  • Agrarianism
  • Fellowship of Southern Writers
  • The Land Institute
  • Local food
  • Subsidiarity
  • Wallace Stegner
  • Wes Jackson
  1. ^ Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995, ISBN 0805746285
  2. ^ Angyal, Andrew. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995, ISBN 0805746285
  3. ^ The Quivira Coalition’s 6th Annual Conference, conference bulletin, page 14, http://quiviracoalition.org/images/pdfs/1018-2007_Conference_Program.pdf
  4. ^ Berry, Wendell, The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural. San Francisco: North Point, 1981., ISBN 0-86547-052-9
  5. ^ Orr, David. "The Designer's Challenge" (commencement address to the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania, on May 14, 2007) http://www.eoearth.org/article/The_designer's_challenge_(speech_by_David_Orr)
  6. ^ Luoni, Stephen. "Solving for Pattern: Development of Place-Building Design Models" http://www.di.net/article.php?article_id=506
  7. ^ Fisher-Smith, Jordan. "Field Observations: An Interview with Wendell Berry. http://arts.envirolink.org/interviews_and_conversations/WendellBerry.html
  8. ^ Berry, Wendell. "Imagination in Place." The Way of Ignorance. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005. 50.
  9. ^ Merchant, Paul, ed. Wendell Berry (American Authors Series). Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence, 1991.
  • The Agrarian Standard an essay by Wendell Berry
  • The Idea of a Local Economy - Wendell Berry
  • "Do Not Be Ashamed" a poem by Wendell Berry
  • "Manifesto:The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" a poem by Wendell Berry
  • Fellowship of Southern Writers Bio
  • Persondata
    NAME Berry, Wendell
    SHORT DESCRIPTION Author, cultural critic, and farmer
    DATE OF BIRTH August 5, 1934
    PLACE OF BIRTH Henry County, Kentucky
    DATE OF DEATH living
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