A reading and commentary by poet, novelist, essayist, activist and farmer Wendell Berry will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 15, in Centre College’s Weisiger Hall.
On Tuesday, Nov. 16, Berry will host an hour-long conversation beginning at 11:30 a.m. in the Grissom Reading Room of the Grace Doherty Library. Later that day, he will do the same at the Boyle County Public Library from 3 to 4 p.m.
Described by one critic as “an American treasure,” Berry has written many works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, including Jayber Crow (2000), That Distant Land (2002), Hannah Coulter (2004), The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (1998), Given: New Poems (2005), A World Lost (1996), The Art of the Commonplace (2002), and his newest, Leavings(2009).
Wendell Berry, now 76, has quietly been changing the world through his fiction, poetry and essays for decades. He doesn’t often speak in public. In an interview in 2006, Berry said, “I’m strenuously trying to avoid invitations to speak. There’s nothing quite like the weariness you can feel in listening to yourself make a speech.”
However, that reluctance to speak has driven him to write. “If I were a good extemporaneous speaker, I probably wouldn’t have been much of an essayist, but I can’t say what I want to say off the cuff, so I have to write it out. That’s where all those essays came from,” says Berry.
Whether he will be remembered more as a writer or as an advocate remains to be seen. “I’ve been mixed up in public issues and so on, and I think a lot of contemporary writers have tended to shy away from those involvements,” says Berry. “I think I’m an American writer in as complex a sense as you could wish.”
When asked if his work will be taught to writers a hundred years from now, Berry replies,“That could be, but I’ve always thought of myself and my work as marginal. And then I’m a country person, and I think country people are marginal in this society.”
Michael Pollan, author of the groundbreaking book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, credits Berry with starting the now-hip conversation about food and agriculture back in the 1970s. Berry is a “supreme dot-connector,” writes Pollan, “far ahead in his ability to think ecologically: to draw lines of connection between a hamburger and the price of oil. What would we give today to have back the ‘environmental crisis’ that Berry wrote about so prophetically in the 1970s, a time still innocent of the problem of climate change?”
When asked if he sees ecological doom for the planet, Berry said, “I think that’s easy to envision, but totally useless. It’s so much more important to have a vision of what is right. You can’t outfox all the variables. Nobody knew about 9/11, nobody foresaw that. The important thing is to try to do the right thing now.”
Berry holds an honorary degree from Centre, granted in 1978, when he was the commencement speaker. He also served as Centre’s writer-in-residence for six weeks in 1977.
This event is free and open to the public, and was funded by a gift to the college endowment from the Humana Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Humana Inc., a health care corporation based in Louisville.