Environmental Science Wendell Berry
by
Kyle Dell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0035

Introduction

Wendell Berry (b. 1934) is a visionary, poet, author, and activist, born to a farming family in Henry County, Kentucky. The eldest of four children, Berry grew up in a tobacco-growing community and aspired to become a farmer early in life. He began his creative writing career while earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where he also taught for most of his life until retiring in the 1990s. In 1958, Berry studied under Wallace Stegner at Stanford University on a creative writing fellowship. Berry is one of the most prominent agrarian writers of the late 20th century. He has written Poetry, Novels, Short Stories, and nonfiction Essays, and has been the subject of dozens of interviews and Biographies. Berry has been outspoken in both oral and written contexts regarding his social and political opinions on commonly discussed topics including racism, same-sex marriage, technology, war, and morality. Berry dedicated most of his life to sharing his progressive vision of a deep interconnectedness between human action and the natural world. For his much celebrated writing, often advocating traditional farming and rural life values, he received a number of honorary degrees and writing awards (such as the T. S. Eliot Award and the Aiken Taylor Award for poetry). He has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, as well as a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Biographies

These biographical sources were intentionally selected to encompass Berry’s life works, and comprise a variety of perspectives and time periods spanning the decades between 1985 and 2014. Angyal 2010 highlights the historical importance of Berry’s work in preservation of rural life. Oehlschlaeger 2011 adds depth pertaining to Berry’s political views, and touches on thoughts about Religion and war. A unique perspective is offered in Heddendorf 2008 through a metaphorical description of the cabin in which Berry composed several of his writings. Farming, Sustainability, and connection with nature are commonly referenced and thoroughly discussed in Peters 2010 and Skinner 2012. Fothergill 1985 compares Berry to Thoreau, Muir and Frost. Goodrich 2001 offers an invaluable analysis of Berry’s autobiographies, and fictional works that offer insight about Berry’s true self.

  • Angyal, Andrew J. 2010. Wendell Berry. In Critical survey of long fiction. Vol. 1. 4th ed. Edited by Carl E. Rollyson and Frank N. Magill. Pasadena, CA: Salem.

    E-mail Citation »

    This comprehensive biography provides a detailed list of Berry’s “principal works.” A personal history includes education, family, special accomplishments, and interests. Angyal describes the relationship between Berry’s works and their historical importance in preserving rural life through essays.

  • Fothergill, Charles. 1985. Recommended: Wendell Berry. The English Journal 74.2:89–90.

    DOI: 10.2307/816284E-mail Citation »

    Fothergill compares Berry to authors Thoreau and Muir. He mentions the theme of “celebrating the restorative power of nature” recurrent throughout his writing. Berry’s works examine small-scale farming with a cyclical connection to nature, and explore the ways in which people of various cultures relate to the land.

  • Goodrich, Janet. 2001. The unforeseen self in the works of Wendell Berry. Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Provides an analysis of Wendell Berry’s works, particularly his autobiographies, and his fictional works that can be construed as such. Details his writing styles and subjects of his Novels, and how they reflect his ideas and life.

  • Heddendorf, David. 2008. Wendell Berry’s living room. The Sewanee Review 116.2:282–289.

    DOI: 10.1353/sew.0.0023E-mail Citation »

    A short narrative about the reconstruction of an old cabin where Berry used to spend time as a child and later worked on various writings. The story is a metaphor for the way that Berry thinks about and acknowledges his own impact upon nature, contrasted with Thoreau’s experience of wilderness.

  • Oehlschlaeger, Fritz. 2011. The achievement of Wendell Berry: The hard history of love. Culture of the land: A series in the new agrarianism. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky.

    DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813130071.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    This biography provides information on Wendell Berry’s historical undertakings, along with detailed essays on his political views as an agrarian and a lover of his country. Provides more information about his conflicted views regarding the church and his views on war. Also includes some of Berry’s Poetry.

  • Peters, Jason. 2010. Wendell Berry: Life and work. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky.

    E-mail Citation »

    This bibliographic book explores the contemporary influence and relevance of the life and work of Berry, including the complexity of his thoughts and ideas as well as his simple but powerful solutions. Peters uses various sources in order to illustrate Berry’s work as both an artist and an activist.

  • Skinner, David. 2012. Wendell E. Berry biography. National Endowment for the Humanities. Washington, DC.

    E-mail Citation »

    This page on the web site of the National Endowment for the Humanities is a brief but comprehensive biography of Berry, discussing his entire life and his major works.

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