Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Move Over, Robert Penn Warren and Harry Caudill: Wendell Berry Is Here

You can't be a liberal in Kentucky unless you read poet/author/philosopher/activist/farmer Wendell Berry. Because there is little in your bag of issues that Wendell Berry has not already subjected to his populist wisdom.

He's a lodestone but also a challenger. His speeches on how to wrest Kentucky's land away from the Big Coal, Big Gas and other corporate forces stealing and destroying it are radical enough to take your breath away.

He shouldn't be as unique as he is.

As the first living author inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, Wendell Berry lamented that many fine books the state’s authors have written about Kentucky issues have had little impact on public discussion or policy.

In most ways, Kentucky is too fragmented a state, Berry said in remarks at a ceremony (last week) at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, where he and five writers from the past were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“This fragmentation is made possible, and continually made worse, by a cloud of silence that hovers over us,” Berry said. “We have in this state no instituted public dialogue, no form in which a public dialogue can take place.

“This public silence ought to be a worry, especially to writers,” he said. “What is the effect or fate, Kentucky writers may ask, of Kentucky books devoted to urgent public issues — Night Comes to the Cumberlands or Lost Mountain or Missing Mountains or The Embattled Wilderness?”

Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, who spoke earlier at the ceremony, said afterward that Berry underestimates the impact of those books and others like them. They may not have led to solutions for Kentucky’s many problems, she said, but things would be worse without them.

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