Wendell Berry 1934-
American poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, and translator.
In his poetry and prose, Berry documents the rural lifestyle of his native Kentucky. He often draws upon his experiences as a farmer to illustrate the dangers of disrupting the natural life cycle and to lament the passing of provincial American traditions. Like Henry David Thoreau, with whom he has been compared, Berry is also regarded for his pragmatic and even-tempered approach to environmental and ecological issues.
The son of an attorney, Berry was born and raised in a rural area of Kentucky. He attended college at the University of Kentucky, receiving his graduate degree in 1957. After a few years teaching at Georgetown College, he received a Wallace Stegner fellowship for fiction in 1958-1959. In 1961 he was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, which took him to Italy and France. After briefly holding a teaching position at New York University, he followed the five previous generations of his family and began farming in Port Royal, Kentucky. It was not long before he rejected modern agricultural methods and farm machinery in favor of more traditional and conservational means; this concern for the land is a defining theme of his poetry and prose. He began teaching at the University of Kentucky in 1964, eventually resigning his position to work on his farm full-time. He now works as a contributing editor for New Farm Magazine, a periodical devoted to small farming.
In his verse, Berry utilizes conventional stylistic techniques to demonstrate how the ordering and healing qualities of nature should be allowed to function in human life. In such volumes as The Broken Ground, Openings, Farming: A Handbook, and Collected Poems, 1957-1982, he often adopts an elegiac tone to convey his agrarian values and appreciation of traditional moral concerns. Furthermore, he explores recurring themes such as the beauty of the countryside, the turning of the seasons, the routines of the farm, the importance of marriage, the cycle of life, and the dynamics of the family. In his collections Sabbath and Sabbaths, 1987-90, Berry underscores the spiritual connection between man and the wilderness, perceiving nature as a place of meditation and rebirth for man.
Although a few reviewers deem Berry's poetry antiquated and moralistic, most applaud his versatility and praise him for his appreciation of nature and ecological concerns. His poetry and prose appeals to a variety of readers, including environmentalists, but scholars often debate his emphasis on the relationship between “culture” and “agriculture.” Some commentators classify Berry as a regionalist poet, in the sense that his work is deeply rooted in the concerns and cadences of his native Kentucky; however, his interest in ecological conservation and familial values are universal and topical themes. Berry is considered an eloquent and influential voice in twentieth-century American poetry.