Paul V. MurphyNovember 1, 2010 - 11:04am0 comments
Imagination in Place
Counterpoint, $24, 208 pp.
In 1964 Wendell Berry turned his back on literary life in New York City, resigning from his teaching position in the English Department at New York University and purchasing a farm near Port Royal, Kentucky. By returning to the area where he had grown up (about forty miles northeast of Louisville), he was choosing to be a “placed writer.” “I was...going back...to take up the fate of country people in my time,” he writes.
I was going back to help bury a lot of good men and women who had replaced their predecessors well enough, but who themselves would not be succeeded or replaced. I was going back to witness many times the breaking of the old link and the old reverence of the manuring of the fields.
But Berry’s literary career did not end with his return to Kentucky, though it did take an unexpected turn. In addition to writing stories and poems, he also began to write essays in defense of the “old link and the old reverence” that was being broken in rural America. From his small farm he launched an immensely ambitious project of cultural criticism. He wrote about race, sex, war, science, religion, and citizenship, but he focused especially on issues of land use, the environment, and farming. Berry also became a lecturer and activist, joining others to champion small-scale family farming, ecologically sound agriculture, and an end to the despoliation of the natural environment.