Berry, Wendell (Erdman)

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BERRY, Wendell (Erdman)

Nationality: American. Born: Henry County, Kentucky, 5 August 1934. Education: University of Kentucky, Lexington, A.B. 1956, M.A. 1957; Stanford University, California (Stegner Fellow), 1958–59. Family: Married Tanya Amyx in 1957; one daughter and one son. Career: Taught at Stanford University, 1959–60, and New York University, 1962–64. Member of the faculty, 1964–70, distinguished professor of English, 1971–72, and professor of English, 1973–77, 1987–93, University of Kentucky. Since 1977 staff member, Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1951; Rockefeller fellowship, 1965; Bess Hokin prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1967; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1969; first-place winner, Borestone Mountain Poetry Awards, 1969, 1970, 1972; National Institute of Arts and Letters Literary award, 1971; Friends of American Writers award, 1975, for The Memory of Old Jack; Jean Stein award, American Academy of Arts & Letters, 1987; Lannan Foundation award for nonfiction, 1989; University of Kentucky Libraries award for intellectual excellence, 1993; Aiken-Taylor award for poetry, Sewanee Review, 1994; T.S. Eliot award, Ingersoll Foundation, 1994. Honorary doctorates from Centre College, Transylvania College, Berea College, University of Kentucky, Santa Clara University, and Eureka College. Address: Port Royal, Kentucky 40058, U.S.A.



November Twenty-Six, Nineteen Hundred Sixty-Three. New York, Braziller, 1964.

The Broken Ground. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1964; London, Cape, 1966.

Openings. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1968.

Findings. Iowa City, Prairie Press, 1969.

Farming: A Hand Book. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1970.

The Country of Marriage. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1973.

An Eastward Look. Berkeley, California, Sand Dollar, 1974.

To What Listens. Crete, Nebraska, Best Cellar Press, 1975.

Horses. Monterrey, Kentucky, Larkspur Press, 1975.

Sayings and Doings. Lexington, Kentucky, Gnomon, 1975.

The Kentucky River. Monterrey, Kentucky, Larkspur Press, 1976.

There Is Singing around Me. Austin, Texas, Cold Mountain Press, 1976.

Three Memorial Poems. Berkeley, California, Sand Dollar, 1977.

Clearing. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1977.

A Part. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1980.

The Wheel. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1982.

Collected Poems 1957–1982. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1985.

Sabbaths. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1987; Ipswich, England, Golgonooza, 1992.

Traveling at Home (includes essay). Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1989.

A Consent. Monterey, Kentucky, Larkspur Press, 1993.

The Storm. Berkeley, California, Okeanos Press, 1994.

Entries: Poems. New York, Pantheon Books, 1994.

The Farm. Monterey, Kentucky, Larkspur Press, 1995.

Amish Economy. Versailles, Kentucky, Adela Press, 1996.

January, Nineteen Seventy-Five. Monterey, Kentucky, Larkspur Press, 1998.

The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Washington, D.C., Counterpoint, 1998.

A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979–1997. Washington, D.C., Counterpoint, 1998.


The Cool of the Day (produced Louisville, Kentucky, 1984).


Nathan Coulter. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1960; revised edition, Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1985.

A Place on Earth. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1967; revised edition, Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1983.

The Memory of Old Jack. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1974.

Remembering. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1988.

A World Lost. Washington, D.C., Counterpoint, 1996.

Short Stories

Fidelity: Five Stories. New York, Pantheon Books, 1992.

Watch with Me: And Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot (1872–1943) and His Wife, Miss Minnie, née Quinch (1874–1953). New York, Pantheon Books, 1994.


The Rise. N.p., Graves Press, 1968.

The Long-Legged House. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1969.

The Hidden Wound. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1970.

The Unforeseen Wilderness: An Essay on Kentucky's Red River Gorge, photographs by Eugene Meatyard. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1971.

A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1972.

The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. San Francisco, Sierra Club, 1977.

Recollected Essays 1965–1980. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1981.

The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1981.

Standing by Words: Essays. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1983.

The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1986.

The Landscape of Harmony: Preserving Wildness and Does Community Have a Value? (lectures). Shenmore, Hereford, Five Seasons, 1987.

Home Economics (essays). Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1987.

The Work of Local Culture. Iowa City, Iowa Humanities Board, 1988.

The Hidden Wound. San Francisco, North Point Press, 1989.

Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work. Lexington, Kentucky, University Press of Kentucky, 1990.

What Are People For? (essays). Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1990; London, Rider, 1991.

The Discovery of Kentucky. Frankfort, Kentucky, Gnomon Press, 1991.

Standing on Earth: Selected Essays. Ipswich, England, Golgonooza, 1991.

Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community: Eight Essays. New York, Pantheon Books, 1993.

Another Turn of the Crank: Essays. Washington, D.C., Counterpoint, 1995.

Two More Stories of the Port William Membership. Frankfort, Kentucky, Gnomon Press, 1997.

Editor, with Wes Jackson and Bruce Coleman, Meeting the Expectations of the Land: Essays in Sustainable Agriculture and Stewardship. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1984.


Critical Studies: A Secular Pilgrimage: Nature, Place, and Morality in the Poetry of Wendell Berry (dissertation) by Robert Joseph Collins, Ohio State University, 1978; Quest for Place: The Poetry of Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry (master's thesis) by Patrick Dennis Murphy, California State University, Northridge, 1983; Practicing Resurrection: Wendell Berry's Georgic Poetry, an Ecological Critique of American Culture (dissertation) by Daniel T. Cornell, Washington State University, 1985; The Spirituality of Place: Wendell Berry's Poetry and the Ground of Being (master's thesis) by David C. Wright, Northeast Missouri State University, 1991; by Bruce Bawer, in New Criterion (New York), 11(3), November 1992; by Ed Folsom, in Earthly Words: Essays on Contemporary American Nature and Environmental Writers, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1994; "Cultivating Wilderness: The Place of Land in the Fiction of Ed Abbey and Wendell Berry" by Nathanael Dresser, in Growth and Change, 26(3), 1995; by John R. Knott, in Essays in Literature, 23(1), Spring 1996; interview by Jack Jezreel, in U.S. Catholic, 64(6), 1 June 1999.

*  *  *

Except for brief study at Stanford University, a year on a Guggenheim fellowship in Europe, and a few years teaching at New York University, Wendell Berry has stayed close to his own place on earth—in Kentucky, on the Kentucky River not far from where it flows into the Ohio. Berry's poetic world is first the physical and social world of his native region. He is a regionalist, not a provincialist, and a deep sense of place animates all of his works. Berry knows the land firsthand, for he farms it. He understands the cycle of the seasons, planting, tending, harvesting, animal husbandry, country people. Because his ancestors have been in the same region for two centuries, he has an almost unique American feeling for ancestral inheritance. He enunciates the familial bond in "The Gathering," a poem from the 1973 collection The Country of Marriage—

     At my age my father
     held me on his arm
     like a hooded bird
     and his father held him so …
   —and ends with
                My son
   will know me in himself
   when his son sits hooded on
   his arm and I have grown
   to be brother to all
   my fathers, memory
   speaking to knowledge
   finally, in my bones.

Like Edwin Muir, whose poetry and prose he has publicly praised, Berry conveys the story of his life in the context of a fable of a family: faithful watchers guard the traditional day.

Berry's seriousness about small farming is informed and passionate. He is the first real farmer-poet of stature in American history, telling readers clearly and forthrightly how Kentucky land has been overworked and ruined by greedy opportunists. The poet describes the degradation of farmland by agribusiness and the resulting pollution of the soil and air by chemical fertilizers and huge machines.

Berry is a wholly committed environmentalist, a preserver of nature and people. His attack on predators in his Kentucky extends to the whole nation, and his corpus of poetry, novels, essays, and short stories attests to his concern for our vanishing world.

Berry's best poetry appears in Collected Poems 1957–1982. Many are long poems, the first being an elegy to his paternal grandfather, Pryor Thomas Berry. The long poem "History," from the 1977 collection Clearing, is one of the finest. In it the poet condemns the predators who lead his nation:

   The land bears the scars
   of minds whose history
   was imprinted by no example
   of a forebearing mind, corrected,

A Part consists mainly of short poems. Among the most successful are "Gary Snyder," "Ripening," "The Way of Pain," and "Horses," which ends with the lines

                 A dance
   is what this plodding is.
   A song, whatever is said.

The Wheel, a book of poetry published in 1982, closes with Berry's attachment to characteristic themes—the natural world, ancestry, marriage:

   Let the rain come,
   the sun, and then the dark,
   for I will rest
   in an easy bed tonight.

Berry's main subjects are those central to humans—love and death. Perhaps no contemporary American poet is more inclined to, or successful with, the elegy as a poetic form. Berry first attracted national notice with November Twenty-Six, Nineteen Hundred Sixty-Three, prompted by the death of President John F. Kennedy. His poems on love are numerous, and although they are mainly deeply serious, some are light and witty, such as "The Mad Farmer's Love Song," in The Country of Marriage:

   O when the world's at peace
   and every man is free
   then will I go down unto my love
   O and I may go down
   several times before that.

Berry's style is deceptively simple. Though his language is not actually the language of Kentuckians, it sounds authentic. It would hardly be mistaken, say, for that of a New Englander or a westerner. His prosody is chiefly an open form of "naked," though occasionally, especially in his later work, rhyme and meter figure in.

The characteristic mode of Berry's poetry is instructive, as he goes beyond the nature of things to assert their causes. Over the years his poetry has not changed markedly in theme, style, or intention, but it has grown in sureness, in power, and in passionate directness.

—James K. Robinson