Wendell Berry

America's most eloquent and prolific defender of traditional rural life and small-scale farming. -- Helena Norberg-Hodge

It is possible, as I have learned again and again, to be in one's place, in such company, wild or domestic, and with such pleasure, that one cannot think of another place that one would prefer to be - or of another place at all. -- Wendell Berry

A community economy is not an economy in which well-placed persons can make a 'killing'. It is an economy whose aim is generosity and a well-distributed and safeguarded abundance. -- Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry (1934- ), American poet, novelist, essayist, philosopher and farmer.

Born, 5 August 1934, Henry County, Kentucky, where he still lives and farms on the family farm at Port Kentucky, alongside the Kentucky River, not far from where it flows into the Ohio.

A close friend of fellow poet and environmentalist Gary Snyder. Berry shares with Snyder a deep sense of place and community. In A Part (1980), a collection of mainly short poems, one of the poems is entitled 'Gary Snyder'. In Snyder's Axe Handles (1983), several of the poems refer directly or indirectly to Berry.

Berry is a strong defender of family, rural communities, and traditional family farms. He has developed 17 rules for the healthy functioning of sustainable local communities. The underlying principles could be described as 'the preservation of ecological diversity and integrity, and the renewal, on sound cultural and ecological principles, of local economies and local communities':

  1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth.

  2. Always include local nature - the land, the water, the air, the native creatures - within the membership of the community.

  3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbours.

  4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products - first to nearby cities, then to others).

  5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of 'labour saving' if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

  6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.

  7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

  8. Strive to supply as mush of the community's own energy as possible.

  9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.

  10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

  11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.

  12. Sees that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalised childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

  13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalised. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.

  14. Looks into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programmes, systems of barter, and the like.

  15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighbourly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighbourhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.

  16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

  17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.

Berry and his family have been in the same place for two centuries, as reflected in the fragments taken from 'The Gathering', published in the The Country of Marriage (1973):

	At my age my father
	held me on his arm
	like a hooded bird
	and his father held him so ....

	. . . . . . . .

				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.

In 'What I have Learned', Snyder continues the dialogue of the generations of father to son in 'The Gathering'.

Berry is a strong critic of big business, the damage wrought by coal extraction in the mountain counties of eastern Kentucky, broken countryside, broken people; the 'rape and run' logging companies in Montana, entire forests liquidated; agribusiness, polluted streams, soil and air, destroyed farms and rural communities. In 'History', Collected Poems 1957-1982 (1985), he attacks the predators who run the country:

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

The poetry reflects family, community and natural cycles.

November Twenty-Six, Nineteen Hundred Sixty-Three (1964) is the collection that brought Berry national attention and recognition. The date is imprinted on every American mind, the day President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.

Wendell is Professor of English at Kentucky State University, where he himself once studied.


Wendell Berry, November Twenty-Six, Nineteen Hundred Sixty-Three, Braziller, 1964

Wendell Berry, The Broken Ground, Harcourt Brace, 1964

Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound, Houghton Mifflin, 1970

Wendell Berry, The Unseen Wilderness, University Press of Kentucky, 1971

Wendell Berry, The Country of Marriage, Harcourt Brace, 1973

Wendell Berry, A Continuous Harmony, Harcourt Brace, 1975

Wendell Berry, Kentucky River, Larkspur Press, 1976

Wendell Berry, There Is a Singing Around Me, Cold Mountain Press, 1976

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America (3rd edition), Sierra Club Books, 1977

Wendell Berry, A Part, North Point Press, 1980

Wendell Berry, Standing By Words, 1983

Wendell Berry, Collected Poems 1957-1982, North Point Press, 1985

Wendell Berry, Landscape of Harmony, Five Seasons, 1987

Wendell Berry, Home Economics: Fourteen Essays, North Point, 1987

Wendell Berry, The Work of Local Culture, Iowa Humanities Board, 1988

Wendell Berry, What Are People For?, North Point, 1990

Wendell Berry, The Discovery of Kentucky, Gnomon Press, 1991

Wendell Berry, Standing on Earth, Golgonooza, 1991

Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, Pantheon Books, 1992

Wendell Berry, Another Turn of the Crank, Counterpoint, 1995

Wendell Berry, Conserving Communities [in Jerry Mander & Edward Goldsmith (eds), The Case Against the Global Economy, Sierra Club Books, 1996]

Wendell Berry, The Death of the Rural Community, The Ecologist, May/June 1999

Wendell Berry, The Politics of Community, The Ecologist, May/June 1999

Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson & Bruce Colman (eds), Meeting the Expectations of the Land, North Point Press, 1984

Thomas Riggs (ed), Contemporary Poets, St James Press, 1996

Gary Snyder, Axe Handles, North Point, 1983

Literature ~ Gary Snyder ~ Henry David Thoreau
(c) Keith Parkins 1999-2000 -- October 2000 rev 1