Today is the birthday of the man who said, “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.” That’s writer Wendell Berry (books by this author), born in Henry County, Kentucky (1934), the son of a lawyer and tobacco farmer. His ancestors on both sides farmed the county for five generations. After going off to college and teaching creative writing in the Bronx for a couple of years, Berry joined that lineage, purchasing a 125-acre homestead near the birthplace of his parents, where he still farms and writes poetry, novels, and essays. From his outpost, Berry tackles the intersection of civic life and the natural world, writing that “essential wisdom accumulates in the community much as fertility builds in the land.”
His eight novels, including Jayber Crow (2000) and Hannah Coulter (2004), together with his many short stories, form a saga of a small fictional Kentucky town called Port William. Through the lives of the townspeople, Berry explores the costs of war, the effects of farm policy, and the challenges and pleasures of community.
Berry wrote: “The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.”
And: “Every day do something that won’t compute […] Give your approval to all you cannot understand […] Ask the questions which have no answers. Put your faith in two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years […] Laugh. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts […] Practice resurrection.”