Authors: Wendell Berry

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet, novelist, short-story writer, and essayist

Author Works

Poetry:

November Twenty-six, Nineteen Hundred Sixty-three, 1963

The Broken Ground, 1964

Openings, 1968

Findings, 1969

Farming: A Hand Book, 1970

The Country of Marriage, 1973

An Eastward Look, 1974

To What Listens, 1975

Horses, 1975

Sayings and Doings, 1975

The Kentucky River: Two Poems, 1976

There Is Singing Around Me, 1976

Three Memorial Poems, 1976

Clearing, 1977

The Gift of Gravity, 1979

A Part, 1980

The Wheel, 1982

Collected Poems, 1957-1982, 1985

Sabbaths, 1987

Traveling at Home, 1989

Sabbaths, 1987-1990, 1992

Entries, 1994

The Farm, 1995

The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1998

A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997, 1998

Long Fiction:

Nathan Coulter, 1960, revised 1985

A Place on Earth, 1967, revised 1983

The Memory of Old Jack, 1974

Remembering, 1988

A World Lost, 1996

Jayber Crow, 2000

Short Fiction:

The Wild Birds, 1986

Fidelity, 1992

Watch with Me, 1994

Nonfiction:

The Long-Legged House, 1969

The Hidden Wound, 1970

The Unforeseen Wilderness, 1971

A Continuous Harmony, 1972

The Unsettling of America, 1977

Recollected Essays, 1965-1980, 1981

The Gift of Good Land, 1981

Standing by Words, 1983

Home Economics, 1987

What Are People For?, 1990

Harland Hubbard: Life and Work, 1990

The Discovery of Kentucky, 1991

Standing on Earth, 1991

Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community, 1993

Another Turn of the Crank, 1995

Life Is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition, 2000

The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, 2002 (Norman Wirzba, editor)

Biography

Wendell Erdman Berry is the outstanding nature poet of his generation, and he has also established a solid reputation as a novelist, a short-story writer, and an essayist. He managed to achieve all of this while running a working farm on conservationist and recyclist principles and holding a professorship at the University of Kentucky. Born into a family that had farmed in Henry County, Kentucky, for five generations, Berry attended local schools before entering the nearby University of Kentucky at Lexington in 1952. Even then, he was interested in pursuing both writing and agriculture, and he acquired his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Kentucky in literature. After his marriage to Tanya Amyx in 1957, he attempted to focus exclusively on an academic career and accepted a position at Stanford and then at New York University. These experiences taught him that he could not live without farming, which was for him a way to maintain the contact with the earth that he found so necessary. In 1964, he returned to Kentucky, joined the faculty at the University of Kentucky, and began working on one of the family farms.{$I[AN]9810001368}{$I[A]Berry, Wendell}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Berry, Wendell}{$I[tim]1934;Berry, Wendell}

Wendell Berry

(Dan Carraco)

His professional writing career began in 1960 with the publication of the novel Nathan Coulter, the first of the Port William series; he revised it extensively for republication in 1985. The events depicted in this first work, like those in all of Berry’s work, parallel his own life. The novel tells of the maturation of the title character as he passes from the heedless selfishness of youth to accepting responsibility and taking over the family farm. Woven into the work are the stories of several other people who form the Port William community, and in the end the novel is about all of them. This underscores one of Berry’s major themes: that a rural community shares a common spirit rooted in the earth and that through that spirit each individual grows. These characters and motifs continue in A Place on Earth, where the central character is the community itself.

Both novels have been highly praised in their revised forms, some critics going so far as to call them masterpieces. Along with Remembering and The Memory of Old Jack–which approach the same themes from the point of view of the oldest member of the community, whose memory fuses past and present instances of the common spiritual force–these novels are the pinnacle of Berry’s art. Other Port William novels are A World Lost, which tells the story of Uncle Andrew Catlett, and Jayber Crow, in which the title character returns there after college to live out a quiet life as town barber, church sexton, and gravedigger. Unlike his poems and essays, Berry’s novels remain independent of ideology, of shared convictions on the part of writer and reader, for fiction, unlike other forms of writing, creates its own context. These novels and the stories in The Wild Birds, Fidelity, and Watch with Me create a successful and brilliantly integrated world of their own, one ideally suited for the illustration of Berry’s abiding convictions about the necessary spiritual interaction of human beings and their community, which always includes the natural world.

Whereas Berry’s fiction was relatively slow to gain adequate appreciation, his recognition as a poet was early and widespread. The early volumes The Broken Ground and Openings clearly announce that his business as a poet will be to celebrate farming as a symbol of the union of human beings and nature in a cyclic, creative, and life-sustaining act. These themes found receptive readers in the late 1960’s, when a number of factors coalesced to promote ecological awareness and the advantages of subsistence farming.

These early volumes established Berry’s major themes, which are identical to those of his prose and remained largely unchanged over his career: the sacredness of the land, human interaction with nature as a religious ritual, and this interaction as the source of order, love, harmony, and propriety in social acts. These ideas form the substance, and the strength, of Collected Poems. Some reviewers call Berry’s 1985 collection the document of a major poet. He works in a variety of lyrical forms, which are disarming in their apparent simplicity yet reflect great technical complexities. In this sense his forms are almost always the perfect vehicles for their themes, for they reflect both technical sophistication and earthy simplicity, the natural rhythms of a traditional farmer’s interaction with the land. Sabbaths, Entries, and A Timbered Choir continued his rich poetic legacy.

Berry’s essays present the detailed substantiation and rational explication of the themes stated imaginatively in his fiction and poetry. The early autobiographical essays in The Long-Legged House show a writer clearly at one with the natural world of his native place, and they foretell Berry’s increasing attachment to his family’s farm. This collection and the next, A Continuous Harmony, reveal not only a clear thinker and a prophetic, corrective voice but also a gifted and disciplined prose stylist. In 1977, Berry gained international attention with the publication of The Unsettling of America, a book-length treatise exploring the intricate connections between land and people and arguing that the health of culture is linked directly to the health of the land. Subsequent collections continue to substantiate the argument for seeing and understanding these connections. Berry’s proposed solutions are sane and rational–and ultimately convincing. His work has provoked comparisons with that of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. He deserves to be in their company, for they were as intent as he upon finding and maintaining harmony between humankind and the rest of creation.

BibliographyAltherr, Thomas L. “The Country We Have Married: Wendell Berry and the Georgian Tradition of Agriculture.” Southern Studies 1 (Summer, 1990): 105-115. Examines the influence of Vergil’s Georgics (c. 37-29 b.c.e.; English translation, 1589) on Berry’s treatment of agriculture.Angyal, Andrew J. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995. Introductory work provides a brief biography of the author as well as critical interpretation of his fiction. Includes chronology, bibliography, and index.Basney, Lionel. “Having Your Meaning at Hand: Work in Snyder and Berry.” In Word, Self, Poem: Essays on Contemporary Poetry from the Jubilation of Poets, edited by Leonard M. Trawick. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1990. Discusses Berry’s early volumes as articulating a work ethic that is rooted in a person’s interaction with a particular place, with a sense of community, and with an uneasy Christian sacramental vision.Cornell, Daniel. “The Country of Marriage: Wendell Berry’s Personal Political Vision.” Southern Literary Journal 16 (Fall, 1983): 59-70. Through a close reading of the poems in The Country of Marriage, Cornell offers a thoughtful examination of the thematic implications of Berry’s pastoral metaphors. Cornell locates Berry within an agrarian populist tradition that defies conventional conservative or liberal labels.Freeman, Russell G. Wendell Berry: A Bibliography. Lexington: University of Kentucky Libraries, 1992. Serves as a good resource for information on the history of Berry’s nonstop, multigenre publishing career.Freyfogle, Eric T. “The Dilemma of Wendell Berry.” University of Illinois Law Review 2 (1994): 363-385. Presents a detailed study of the moral implications of Berry’s cultural criticism, especially in his fictional works.Goodrich, Janet. The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001. Interesting work takes a fresh approach to Berry’s writings. Argues that whether Berry is writing poetry or prose, he is reimagining his own life and thus belongs to the tradition of autobiography.Hicks, Jack. “Wendell Berry’s Husband to the World: Place on Earth.” American Literature 51 (May, 1979): 238-254. One of the best critical overviews available of Berry’s earlier work. Examines the farmer-countryman vision in Berry’s fiction and traces thematic connections among Berry’s essays, poetry, and fiction.Knott, John R. “Into the Woods with Wendell Berry.” Essays in Literature 23 (Spring, 1996): 124-140. Draws on both Berry’s fiction and his poetry to explore the role of the wilderness in his works, noting the more hopeful tone of later volumes.Merchant, Paul, ed. Wendell Berry. Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence Press, 1991. Part of the American Authors series, this is a collection of critical essays and appreciations by several writers, including Wallace Stegner, Terry Tempest Williams, Donald Hall, and Gary Snyder. The observations of Hall and Snyder are particularly useful in gauging Berry’s poetry.Nibbelink, Herman. “Thoreau and Wendell Berry: Bachelor and Husband of Nature.” South Atlantic Quarterly 84 (1985): 127-140. Contrasts Henry David Thoreau’s love of wilderness with Berry’s preference for cultivated land in terms of the bachelor-husband metaphor.Peters, Jason, ed. Wendell Berry: Life and Work. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007. Collection of critical essays examines Berry’s life, career, works, philosophy, and legacy as an agrarian writer and thinker. Includes chronology, selected bibliography, and index.Sciagaj, Leonard M. Sustainable Poetry: Four American Ecopoets. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999. Along with Berry, discusses and compares A. R. Ammons, Gary Snyder, and W. S. Merwin and their treatment of nature and environmental concerns in their works. Bibliographical references, index.Slovic, Scott. “Coming Home to ’The Camp’: Wendell Berry’s Watchfulness.” In Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing: Henry Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992. Presents a fine appreciation of Berry’s naturalist, ecological vision. Included in a larger study that places Berry within an important American literary tradition.Smith, Kimberly K. Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition: A Common Grace. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003. Detailed study focuses on the influence of Berry’s thought and work on modern ecological agrarianism through his support of small farming and traditional agrarian values.
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