November Twenty-six, Nineteen Hundred Sixty-three, 1963
The Broken Ground, 1964
Farming: A Hand Book, 1970
The Country of Marriage, 1973
An Eastward Look, 1974
To What Listens, 1975
Sayings and Doings, 1975
The Kentucky River: Two Poems, 1976
There Is Singing Around Me, 1976
Three Memorial Poems, 1976
The Gift of Gravity, 1979
A Part, 1980
The Wheel, 1982
Collected Poems, 1957-1982, 1985
Traveling at Home, 1989
Sabbaths, 1987-1990, 1992
The Farm, 1995
The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1998
A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997, 1998
Nathan Coulter, 1960, revised 1985
A Place on Earth, 1967, revised 1983
The Memory of Old Jack, 1974
A World Lost, 1996
Jayber Crow, 2000
The Wild Birds, 1986
Watch with Me, 1994
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)
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.
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.