Interview: Going Home with Wendell Berry

Amanda Petrusich in The New Yorker:

Two and a half years ago, feeling existentially adrift about the future of the planet, I sent a letter to Wendell Berry, hoping he might have answers. Berry has published more than eighty books of poetry, fiction, essays, and criticism, but he’s perhaps best known for “The Unsettling of America,” a book-length polemic, from 1977, which argues that responsible, small-scale agriculture is essential to the preservation of the land and the culture. The book felt radical in its day; to a contemporary reader, it is almost absurdly prescient. Berry, who is now eighty-four, does not own a computer or a cell phone, and his landline is not connected to an answering machine. We corresponded by mail for a year, and in November, 2018, he invited me to visit him at his farmhouse, in Port Royal, a small community in Henry County, Kentucky, with a population of less than a hundred.

Berry and his wife, Tanya, received me with exceptional kindness, and fed me well. Berry takes conversation seriously, and our talks in his book-lined parlor were extensive and occasionally vulnerable. One afternoon, he offered to drive me around Port Royal in his pickup truck to show me a few sights: the encroachment of cash crops like soybeans and corn on nearby farms, the small cemetery where his parents are buried, his writing studio, on the Kentucky River. Berry’s connection to his home is profound—several of his novels and short stories are set in “Port William,” a semi-fictionalized version of Port Royal—and his children now run the Berry Center, a nonprofit dedicated to educating local communities about sustainable agriculture.

More here.

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