Wendell Berry: a gentleman and a scholar
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 11:00 AM
People rarely use quaint, colorful speech anymore or spend time with their neighbors talking about their lives and communities, and the world is the worse for it, author Wendell Berry told an audience in Madison last April.
Berry was speaking at a "One Book, One Community" discussion of his book "Hannah Coulter."
A man in the audience asked, "How do we get that back?"
"One of the nice things about Madison is the Farmers Market," Berry said. "That's where it starts. Those things always turn into social events where people talk. Those are things that are hope-giving."
That's the essence of Wendell Berry.
The Kentucky-based author, essayist and poet has been named winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize's lifetime achievement award for his promotion of the need for people to live at peace with their environment.
Berry is a proponent of a simpler life. And, through his actions, he lives the words he puts to paper. He prefers the simple life, keeping a garden, raising sheep and living largely technology-free on his central Kentucky farm.
The Dayton honor is called the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement award, for the late U.S. diplomat who brokered the 1995 Dayton peace accords on Bosnia. It's meant to recognize literature's ability to promote peace and understanding.
Berry humble demeanor came through when he was told of the honor...
"My first thought, I suppose, is surprise ... the prize puts me in very distinguished company," Berry said. "So I suppose my second thought is a question: whether or not I am worthy of such a distinction? And my third thought is, if I'm not presently worthy of it, I'll have to try to be worthy afterwards."
President Barack Obama presented Berry in 2011 with the National Humanities Medal for achievements as a poet, novelist, farmer and conservationist.
"In a career spanning more than half a century, Wendell Berry has used poetry, fiction and essays to offer a consistent, timely and timeless reminder that we must live in harmony with the Earth in order to live in harmony with each other," Sharon Rab, founder and co-chairwoman of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation, said in an announcement provided to The Associated Press.
"As a poet and fiction writer, my goal was to write a good poem and tell a good story. That's complex enough. A lot of knowledge, a lot of study, a lot of work goes into that," he told the Associated Press. "I have as a storyteller, and somewhat as a poet, been stuck with the story of the decline of rural life in all its aspects during my lifetime. And so I've told that story, and I suppose it has a potential instructiveness."
Those not familiar with Berry's work should get a copy of his book "Hannah Coulter."
Coulter is one of Berry's fictional characters in the made-up rural Kentucky community of Port William near the Ohio River.
He started writing about Port William's inhabitants around 1954. Hannah Coulter was introduced in earlier books, but he did not start developing her character until he began a notebook about her on May 18, 2001. Three years later, "Hannah Coulter" was published.
"I had begun to imagine how her life had been," Berry said. "I had begun to hear her speak. I knew the last sentence of the novel before I knew anything else. The question is, how do you get to that sentence. I just worked my way."
In reality, Hannah's life isn't much different than Berry's. He's written many personal chapters and they all lead up to his final wish ... creating a better world for our children.