Happy Birthday, Mr. Berry

Wendell Berry is a genuine hero to me. A novelist, poet, essayist, philosopher and farmer he embodies a way of life that is at once rooted and transcendent - a life he has quietly urged us all to live, whether we be farmers or city dwellers. First and foremost, he reminds us to honor and pay loving attention to the places where we live. It is that call that inspired this website.

I have had the great pleasure of exchanging a few letters with Mr. Berry and the wonderful opportunity of chatting with him at an event here in Austin a few years back. Talking with him was like talking to my Grandfather (who was also a farmer.) Standing among a swirl of people at a reception held in his honor, I felt I was in the presence of man who came from somewhere particular. a place that was on his mind and under his feet even though he was standing on a literal red carpet rolled out for him. In the words of the author of this birthday tribute, you could sense his anchor - the soil beneath his feet.

Here is a quote from the tribute by Gracy Olmstead:

The first book I read by Wendell Berry was Remembering: a profoundly moving novella about a journalist searching for identity and place, in the midst of a war between self and community. It was a deeply poignant story, and Berry’s diverse work has continued to have a profound effect on my writing and thought. Today, in honor of his 80th birthday, it seems appropriate to consider the impact he has had on our culture and ideas of place, in addition to the important role he continues to play in modern conservatism.

Wendell Berry doesn’t just appeal to “crunchy con” writers and conservatives, who probably enjoy his more pastorally-focused prose. His work is about more than farmers and fields, though he definitely promotes the rural. Anyone—urban dweller and rural citizen alike—can appreciate Berry’s focus and emphasis on place. A prolific novelist, all of Berry’s novels focus on one town, placing themselves within its geographic and relational limits. It is as if, even here, he wants to focus on the particulars, to love one place, even a fictionalized one. These are the characters, families, and social dynamics he wants to invest in.

Berry’s poetry has a similarly place-focused slant. His work plunges into theology and philosophy, but manifests itself in the lovely rhythms of countryside walks, meditations on the front porch, musings by the hearth. His work has soil beneath it, anchoring it.