Paying Attention: A Visit with Wendell Berry

By

Allen Levi, Ben May, and I stood on Wendell Berry‘s front porch as nervous as schoolboys. Allen had prayed aloud as we pulled up to the little Kentucky farmhouse that God would keep the visit from descending into some goofy hero worship, and that we’d remember who we are, that somehow our visit would amount to a blessing to the Berrys even as it would be to us. Basically it was, “Dear God, don’t let us be dummies.”

There was a lot going into the trip. Early this year Ben May wrote Wendell a letter explaining that he and a few of his singer/songwriter friends had been greatly moved by his writings and would be honored to spend a little time with him. Wendell agreed to it, on the condition that we not drive all the way to Kentucky just to see him, saying he didn’t think he was equal to such a responsibility. So we let him know we’d be in Kentucky for concerts in August, and the date was set.

Allen and Ben read and re-read Berry’s books before the trip. I keep a number of Wendell’s books of poetry at arm’s reach and read from them often, but have been too busy this year to dream of re-reading any novels or essays. But just to be responsible I brought Jayber Crow with me on the trip. In my hotel room the night before, I flipped through it and read passages at random, reliving the heartbreaking beauty of the story, and ended up re-reading much of the last chapter–clear to the bittersweet ending that left me sobbing on the floor of my office five years ago. (“Sobbing” isn’t an exaggeration. The book wrecked me.)

Allen and I met for coffee at Heine Bros. Sunday morning before the visit and talked about songwriting and stories for a few hours before we picked Ben May up from the airport. Between that conversation and the previous night’s in-the-round concert with Allen, one of my hopes for the trip was realized. See, meeting Wendell was only part of the point of the trip. From the first time I met Allen I hoped to be grafted into his story in one way or another, so our “goofy rabbit trail” (as Ben referred to it to Wendell later) was an excuse to spend some time in the car with a few kindred spirits. And the nice thing about that was, by the time we picked up Ben, the trip was already a success. My soul already felt healthier just being around those guys. It took the pressure off. Wendell could have been a crotchety old geezer who shooed us from his porch and we still would have driven home happy.

But Wendell and his wife Tanya were anything but crotchety geezers. We approached the porch in silence, each of us thinking of our own favorite stories about the Port William Membership, each of us took a deep breath, and Ben knocked. After a few moments a beautiful, sharp-eyed, white-haired woman answered the door and welcomed us in: Tanya Berry, who, as anyone who gives a hoot about Berry’s writing knows, transcribes Wendell’s hand-written manuscripts with her trusty typewriter—the same Tanya who lived with him many years ago on the banks of the river in the long-legged house. She smiled and offered us seats in the front room. About that time came footsteps from staircase, and Mr. Berry descended, greeted us with a giant smile, and looked each of us in the eye.

I had read that Wendell Berry can intimidate. I assumed that meant he was standoffish or stiff. Quite the opposite was true. The source of any reputation for being intimidating was, in fact, his kindness. He looked me in the eye when he asked my name, and he seemed to actually care about the answer. It wasn’t a formality, and as far as I could tell he wasn’t just being nice. I was a guest in his home and he wanted to know my name, it seemed, in a deeper way than I was used to. I don’t know that I managed to meet that formidable gaze or that enormous grin.

We sat and talked for two hours. When Allen, God bless him, exercised his gift of southern palavering and told Wendell all about his timberland in Georgia, Wendell sat up and started talking. It was a subject that interested him, which was no surprise. In minutes I had learned more than I ever wanted to know about Native American forestry in Wisconsin, which meant I was free to let my eyes roam around the room while Wendell talked. There was, as you might imagine, no television. In the center of the room was a woodburning stove, and on every wall were books, books, books. Virgil. William Blake. Books on Kentucky birds. Shakespeare.

At some point Allen asked Wendell if he wrote every day. He more or less deflected the question, then turned his bright eyes on me. “What about you, Andrew? You’re a writer. Do you write every day?” Again, that intimidating interest. I gulped. I was a possum in headlights. I told him I tried, but it was hard. I have these three kids, and we homeschool, and the demands of a music career make it difficult. I mumbled something about how music uses a different part of my brain than book writing, so it’s hard to move back and forth between the two.

To my great horror, Wendell disagreed. He said kindly, “Now I don’t buy into all that scientific talk about ‘parts of the brain’. I think you have one mind.”

I gulped. “Well, sir, what I mean is that it exercises a different kind of creativity. Surely you, uh, feel differently when you’re writing a poem than when you’re writing an essay or a novel, don’t you?”

“But you can’t think about that while you’re doing it,” he said. “If you think about what you’re doing, then you’ve stopped doing it. If you stop writing your song and think ‘I’m writing a song,’ then you’re no longer writing a song. The bird,” he said, “has flown.”

I gathered my wits. “I guess what I’m saying is just that writing an album is a creatively demanding process and–”

“But are you writing songs or are you writing albums?” asked Tanya from her rocking chair. Her brow was furrowed and she was weighing my every word.

“Uh, well, both, ma’am. It’s not like this for everybody, but a lot of times I’m thinking of the album as a whole while I’m writing the song. I want the album—and I think of it like a photo album—to tell a story, sorta. I gather the songs together and sort out the good ones from the bad ones and the good ones make it to the record–”

“So,” Wendell said, “you write bad ones. How do you judge the good from the bad?”

By now my adrenaline was pumping into my system full-bore. I, the youngest person in the room by nearly fifteen years, was being grilled, more or less. “Well, sir, if I hold two songs up next to each other, usually one will say better than the other what I mean to say. If the song doesn’t say it well, it gets shelved.” I hoped this would satisfy them so he and Allan could get back to their discussion about Chief Milwaukee’s timber wisdom. But no.

“Then it’s about what the song is saying, then,” Tanya said, still watching me with an eyebrow raised. “Not the music?”

“Well, it’s both. The lyric and the music are married,” I said.

“Do you write out the music?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Hmm.”

And then, thank goodness, Allan or Ben chimed in and those spotlight eyes and the intense interest passed on to someone else. I was so relieved I almost crumpled into Wendell Berry’s couch and fainted dead away. For another hour or so the talk meandered, and at one point Wendell turned to Ben with a grin and said, “Well, Mister May, you haven’t hardly said a word. Are these two all that entertaining?” Ben had his minute in the sun, as it were, and offered up to Wendell his gratitude for his hospitality and his work.

A few minutes later I had my chance, too. I took a deep breath, steeled my nerves, and told him how I grew up loathing all things agricultural, and how my parents always impressed on us the beauty of the land and the old ways but I kicked against those goads. I told him how I found myself living in a cookie-cutter subdivision in Nashville as I read the final pages of Jayber Crow, and how I picked myself off the floor, wiped my eyes, and immediately started looking online for land in Kentucky. I wanted to live a richer life, one where I and my wife and children could hear what the land had to say. I told him how his works teach me to care about things that matter, and how his stories have encouraged some of us in Nashville to approach our music more like farmers tilling ancient soil than miners digging for gold.

He nodded. Then he deflected the compliment again. He said, “Well, the only thing I don’t like about that is that you all think it’s me and my ideas. It’s not. I learned all this from many teachers. If you subtracted from my work all that I learned from my teachers there would only be the tiniest bit left. And I don’t want to take credit for their work. I will take credit for the discipline of sitting down and writing it out. But that’s all.”

“You don’t have to take credit, sir. I just wanted to thank you.”

I was a guest in his home, so I didn’t want to be contrary. I appreciated his humility. But if I were a bolder man or a friend of his I would’ve said this: “But Mister Berry, I’m not reading your teachers’ books. I’m reading yours. And besides that, I don’t know another author who can say these things like you can. I don’t know anyone else who walks their woodlands on Sabbath mornings and writes verses like, ‘And now the remnant groves grow bright with praise / They light around me like an old man’s days.’ No other author has used his sage imagination to construct a fictional town like Port William and populated it with characters like Hannah Coulter, Andy Catlett, and dear old lonesome Jayber Crow. No other author has so ascribed dignity to the men and women who have chosen to stick around their homes and communities while so many of us abandoned our roots as if they were there to kill us and not to keep us alive. My life is richer because of you. Like it or not, Mister Berry, we have you to thank.”

Wendell and Tanya graciously gave us their Sunday afternoon. And the more I thought about it the more I realized what an honor they paid me and the other guys simply by listening. They didn’t nod and indulge us for a few minutes until we awkwardly excused ourselves (a scenario for which we were fully prepared). No, they turned their bright eyes on us and paid attention. If they didn’t understand what I meant, they said so. If they disagreed, they said so, kindly. If Allen or Ben said something that lit Wendell up, he in turn illuminated us. More than once, he told a funny story that ended in a burst of laughter that warmed my heart. When he grinned his whole body grinned with him. For two hours we engaged in something called “conversation”, in which ideas and opinions are exchanged, challenged, and sometimes—if you’re lucky—agreed with. In that mighty company I was forced to think about what I had to say, because they were listening.

And doesn’t that sound just like the Wendell Berry you’d imagine? To write those kinds of essays, stories, and poems, you have to have a strong mind—one mind, he would argue—and wide-open eyes, and ears to hear. You have to pay attention.

I could not be more thankful for the two hours I spent in that storied room with Allen and Ben and the Berrys. I asked Tanya if she had a CD player, and she did, so I left her with a copy of my new album. I hope she listens to “The Magic Hour”, and hears the nod to Wendell’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things“, and knows that some of us, feebly though we do it, are trying to pay attention too.

Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


57 Comments

  1. Judy Nelson

    So moved by the attention YOU paid to the visit. Thank you for every “little” detail. How I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall with you lovely and thoughtful writers who have been great companions to ME!

  2. Kelly Keller

    Andrew, I just sent this on to my homeschool email loop. If you aren’t reading Charlotte Mason in reference to your kids’ education, you should pick her up. I think you’d find her right in line with your thinking about life.

    Thanks…this was a real treat for a relatively new Berry fan like me.

  3. Leigh Mc

    Oh, Andrew…thank you for this. I squirmed in my chair as I read Mr. Berry’s questions to you…and I WOULD have fainted dead away, while you only considered it. I laughed until I cried instead at your “inner conversation.” What a gift that afternoon must have been, and I detect a smile on his face, too, in the “front porch” picture that does not look the least bit forced. I confess my deep jealousy that you could be there with at least the chance to say what I, too, have often thought about Berry’s work and words. They’re rich, and moving, and utterly real. Wow. I hope Allen took a few notes himself with that ever-ready pen…but I fear he may not have recorded the forest for (talking about) the trees! So I appreciate your re-telling of those few “magic hours.” You know, he’s right–we’re all the composites of our teachers, but each time one of us takes the time and makes the effort of expressing what we’ve learned in another small way, the picture we’re all painting gets richer, fuller, more complete. Your work does that too, you know. Thanks again for sharing your songs, and for sharing this.

  4. Jonathan Rogers

    Oh, man. Oh, MAN! That’s nice of Mr. Berry to acknowledge his teachers; but what a teacher he has been to those who read him.

    I was wondering if he was going to scold you for looking for Kentucky land online. I thought you were going to say he gently pointed out that the way to look for land was by looking at land, not by looking at the computer.

    I think I’m going to go map out my gratitude speech and a few witticisms in case I ever get a chance to spend the afternoon with the Berrys.

  5. Dan Kulp

    Thanks for relating the tale. What a moving event.
    I had about the same feeling at the moot sharing a table with you and then talking with Ron Block after a session. You just keep thinking to yourself “ooh, a question, okay what’s the right answer here”; when it was questions from true heartfelt listening.

    “The wise man will follow a star, low and large and fierce in the heavens, but the nearer he comes to it the smaller and smaller it will grow, till he finds it the humble lantern over some little inn or stable. Not till we know the high things shall we know how lovely they are.” -GK Chesterton (‘William Blake’)

  6. JJ

    I squirmed at those questions too. It’s funny how we seem to know why we do what we do…until someone asks us and our answer is insufficient for them.

    Thanks for sharing so much detail AP.

  7. Bonnie Buckingham

    Awesome. I am jealous. I have written Wendell Berry and he always answers. Recently was a recommendation for which book my high school literature tutorial should read for Am. History . He answered Andy Catlett.
    I , too, have learned so much , akin to Jan Karon, but deeper into place and land and marriage of all that and family. I love that he is accessible. He looks good !
    Great song too! He;s of the heritage of The Southern Agarians from Vanderbilt. Look them up! We’ve lost so much and his voice is strong to speak into our lives and culture. That’s why he will be a major writer in my class this year.

  8. Chris Yokel

    Thanks for this wonderful description Andrew. The Rabbit Room has inspired me to want to read both Berry and Buechner, which I will hopefully do someday.

  9. JenniferT

    Setting aside the fact that I’m insanely jealous…. I’m sitting here thinking, as I read your description of the Berrys, “I want to be like that.” Not necessarily be a legendary writer, but be a person who honors and embraces other people with that kind of intense interest and kindness. Your description of Wendell Berry immediately reminded me of a professor I had in college (he taught poetry, in fact – Wordsworth, Coleridge, Yeats, etc. – surely not a coincidence) whose eyes so fully wrapped you in their concentration and compassion that you felt for those few moments of conversation that you were the one person in the world who mattered to him. That’s a gift, as eloquent and affecting as the gift of beautiful writing.

  10. MargaretW

    Andrew, do you feel that he was trying to make a point while deflecting the question about writing every day, or was it simple interest in your own creative process? I agree with his statement “Now I don’t buy into all that scientific talk about ‘parts of the brain’. I think you have one mind.” I put just as much concentration and effort into my poetry as into my novels and they seem to come from the same source. I’m just striving to understand his point. It seems that he was trying to make one, but maybe it didn’t come across because you were “starstruck.” Some writers say it is of utmost importance to write everyday and I’m curious what a creative mind of his caliber would think about that.

  11. Josh Bishop

    I’ve never read Mr. Berry, but now I’m v. interested. Any recommendations on which volumes to pick up first? Say, one recommendation for fiction and one for poetry? (I’ve already got my nonfiction picked out…)

  12. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    John,

    I read Jayber Crow first, and many regard it as his finest book of fiction. Then read Hannah Coulter, then Fidelity, then–well, you’re on your own after that. As for a great book of poems, I love A Timbered Choir, which is a collection of several years of his Sabbath poems–poems he wrote about or during his Sunday morning walks. There’s some stunning stuff there.

    Margaret,

    1) I don’t think he was trying to make a point. He just felt uncomfortable every time we treated him like he was Someone Important. One of my favorite things he said was something like,

    “I don’t like when folks treat me like I’m anything special just because I write books. Someone said to the little girl down the road, ‘Do you know the man who lives next door is a famous author?’ And she said indignantly, ‘He is NOT. He’s my neighbor.’ I think it’s the finest compliment I ever got.”

    In other words, he’d rather be a good neighbor than a good writer.

    He said he tries to write every day, but he doesn’t set out to write much poetry anymore. Then he turned the spotlight on me.

    2) I’m not saying the different kinds of writing come from a different place. But writing exercises a very different muscle, so to speak, than songwriting. You have to approach them with a very different kind of mindset. As I’ve said before, songwriting is about patience, while book writing is about endurance. So I hold to my point that there’s a different kind of weariness at the end of a day of songwriting than at the end of a day of novel writing, just as there’s a difference between painting your house and jogging three miles.

    3) My snippet of the conversation wasn’t meant to be exhaustive. As I said, we talked for two hours, and this is just one of many exchanges. And no, I don’t think he necessarily had a point–we were just talking; we were exchanging ideas, and following the conversation wherever it led. Having a point is a sure way to diminish the beauty of a good palaver. And I don’t mean to put words into his mouth, but I’m sure he’d recommend that writers write every day. I don’t see how he could have published thirty some-odd books if he didn’t. I have a hunch he approaches his writing like he approaches his farming. Even on Sundays you have to feed the chickens and milk the cow.

  13. Mad on a Gray Sea

    As usual, I’m green with envy!
    This sure trumps that time I met that keyboard-player from Great White. Not that our lives are meant to be compared (and our experiences can’t compete with each other).
    But anyways, glad to hear that Wendell Berry was kind and gracious.
    As far as writing daily goes, call me blasphemous, but I think that we write when we write. We all write for different reasons, with different intentions, and with wildly various results. Maybe Berry deflected that question because he doesn’t think there has to be one right answer?

  14. Jeanne

    I’ve been hearing of Berry for a long, long time, but only recently did something of his come to hand; it was Andy Catlett: Early Travels. A short book, without a plot, as it were… but oh my. I can’t describe what it was like to read the passage about Andy falling asleep in his grandparents’ house, and the wind, and the silence, and the darkness….

    Thank you for the post. As with everything here, it was a delight to read.

  15. Chris Whitler

    Just learned about Mr. Berry a couple of weeks ago as he read his poems on “Speaking of Faith” on NPR. It was so good. I’ll have to get a book here soon (so much to read!).

    Oh, and Hiene Bros. on Old Bardstown road is my favorite coffee shop in the world.

  16. Rob Y

    Wow — Andrew Peterson and Wendell Berry together! Two people who have inspired me greatly towards beauty, truth, and the Kingdom. With regard to frequency of writing, when Wendell Berry spoke at a nearby library in March, he seemed to recommend writing six days a week for an hour a day, with some days naturally being more productive than others.

    Andrew, thanks for introducing me to Wendell Berry’s writing about five years back. You had posted on your website about reading Jayber Crow. I read it and ended up buying a copy for each of the groomsmen in my wedding that spring.

  17. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    I felt the same way when I met Dave Barry, Not really.

    I guess I’ll add my sincere “me too.” I too looked for land after reading Jaber Crow, and have loved to find in WB a great lacking in my own life, so unrooted in an impoverished modernity.

    Some of what Ken Myers teaches, Wendell Berry sings. And more and less. But it’s sure worth hearing.

    Good on you, AP. Really.

  18. Profile photo of Matt Conner

    Matt Conner

    @mattconner

    That’s fantastic. Congratulations on getting to meet a personal hero (to many of us as well), but also to be a bit challenged in what we believe we know to be true about our craft.

  19. Matthew Clark

    Oh my goodness, I’m so glad you got to visit the Berrys. What beautiful stuff. Berry taught me to understand my own Dad. I spent way too long without much appreciation for him, his generation, his ‘poetry’ which is walking the land.

  20. Heather

    Andrew, the one thing in this post that stood out to me was when you said “In that mighty company I was forced to think about what I had to say, because they were listening.” What a thought – they were listening. This instantly brought to mind the Sarah Groves lyrics “Sit down a while and share your narrative with me. I’m not afraid of who you are.” This is personally convicting. I am left to ponder whether I really intentionally take the time to listen to my husband, sons, or friends like this. I can only reflect on how different my corner of the world would be if I adventured into the lives of those around me in this intimate way. How would this change my relationships? I am overwhelmed with the realization that there are possible conversations I may be missing out on with my husband and sons because there are corners of their hearts that may be closed to me because I have shut them. Wow! I am taken back at what that must have been like for you. So rare. I am going to have to think some more about this one. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Terry K

    And so… did you ask him to give the keynote at Hutchmoot 2011? You know he’s the perfect choice, right?

  22. Kim

    Mesmerizing account of your conversation. I have so much admiration for Wendell Berry, mostly for just speaking his truth. But, as you so aptly describe, he also listens. I have read many of his books, but not his novels. You have convinced me to start with Jayber Crow.

  23. Becky

    The song is wonderful and this is a great post.

    While I think a couple of hours with just Mr. Berry would be wonderful, I would love to talk one-on-one with Mrs. Berry. She also seems to be an “intimidating” person with great insight. You have been blessed to be in both of their company.

  24. Phillip Johnston

    I trembled as I read this, Andrew. A month ago I drove up to Port Royal and Newcastle on my way up to Pennsylvania. I visited the Smith-Berry Winery (run by Wendell’s daughter, Mary, and her husband) and simply drove around the area for a few hours to get a feel for the place. I didn’t expect to see Wendell, but I had a letter for him that I was told would be delivered.

    I didn’t feel the need to gush in my letter because my love for Wendell’s writing isn’t a gushy kind of love. It’s a deep thankfulness for him teaching me how to live consciously and showing me what love entails in all its many senses. Jayber Crow was my first introduction to his writing as well and it tore me apart. So wise. I’ve recommended it to so many people.

    Again: thanks for this. I remain moved by your account of this beautiful visit.

  25. John

    Andrew – beautiful post, as usual…
    I’m struck by your prayer before you met Mr. Berry – “Lord, don’t let us be dummies…”, to remember who you are – and that he, no matter how amazing, is a person too. We’re all children of God – made in His image, and there’s something beautiful about that. No matter how accomplished, how truly powerful someone’s “persona” is – they are ultimately no different than any of the rest of us. Our prayer should always be to better reflect God’s image that is in us.
    All that being said – I’m pretty sure I’ll pray the same thing before I meet you in October. 🙂 You’re playing at my church in New York. “Lord, don’t let me be a dork when I meet Andrew Peterson….” 🙂

  26. Sarah

    Good grief, I’m so crosseyed with jealousy I’m not sure I can post coherently, but… thank you so much for sharing this time! I counted this post a gift. I discovered Wendell Berry when I was overseas, this slim little book called “Life is Miracle” that demanded a level of concentration from me as a reader that I’d rarely experienced. Found his fiction soon after, and it’s been one of the keeper’s of my faith ever since.

    I love the way you describe his intensity – I always warn friends when reading his books that you cannot approach them lightly. You can’t read with half your mind, you have to be all there, and enter the slow, rich growth of his stories. Sounds like the man is the same way and this is lovely to me. It’s one of his gifts, I think, to slow us all down.

    Anyway. I could gush, but thank you for sharing so poignantly and I’m so glad for your time. (And I bet Tanya loved “The Magic Hour.”)

  27. carrie luke

    Such grace to entertain and engage those you’ve never met, but think of you personally because of the impact of your work in their lives. I hope they listen to your CD, andrew. Especially, the magic hour. It’s my favorite right now, and really does describe the beauty of your writing process. The listening and having patience to put it into words. You on the piano, sara g. and the horns in the background, it is a union of sorts. I know it’s not about always being understood, even by those who inspire us to try and craft our own story in light of God’s larger story. But, what a blessing for any teacher to hear the student having the courage to make his own song heard.

  28. Amber Leffel

    I just want to say, I would feel the same way if I were in the room with Andrew Peterson! Isn’t it wonderful how good He is to put people in front of us for us to glean from, to inherit wisdom, to learn goodness.

    Thanks 🙂

  29. Paul Thomas

    Mr. Berry is now on my reading list. It is my prayer that those who are moved by your thoughts and insights will see embers of creativity flickering within them being fanned—-into flames of their own. Thank you Andrew for fanning so beautifully.

  30. josh barkey

    I appreciate you writing this, Andrew. For the last two summers I’ve traveled to Kentucky to visit a friend of mine and each time I have made an effort to arrange a trip out to the Berry farm. It hasn’t worked out, but his letters have always been exceptionally kind, and when (the first summer) I wrote at the last moment because of a change of plans, he took the trouble to call me so I would know that it wasn’t going to work out.

    A Nashvillian friend of mine sent me a link to this story because I went as a teacher with a high school group to a camp in the mountains last week and saw you perform. I was at a low point and your performance gave me a lot of hope. It was an important experience for me, so I wrote about it on my blog here: http://barkingreed.blogspot.com/2010/08/andrew-peterson-dancing-in-minefields.html

    Thanks,
    Josh

  31. Shelley

    As all mentioned, thanks for sharing the story of your conversation with all present that Sunday afternoon. What struck me most, however, was the point that even if Wendell was a “crotchety old geezer who shooed us from his porch” – “we still would have driven home happy.” Those are friendships to treasure…

    And isn’t it about the disicpline? (The writing) I think of blogging (which would be fun and challenging and yet I don’t have one) but then I look at my 3 kids and know we’ll be beginning school at “Elrond’s House” here in our home soon and realize, when? My creativity floods to them, joyfully. However, I could every day listen better to those that teach me: Berry, Lewis, Dillard, Robert Penn Warren, Mary Oliver, Schaffer– and respond a little every day and begin the discipline of writing those lessons down.

  32. Brian

    Sarah,

    Your description of Berry’s writing was perfect. Anyone who reads him with a full mind is a better person for it.

    His non-fiction isn’t getting near enough play here, though. His seminal work, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, along with myriad essays on our society form an illuminating backdrop for his novels. His stories are parables; his essays are prophecies.

  33. Heather R

    When Walt mentioned at the Hutchmoot that you were going to see Wendell Berry, I hoped a RR post would follow. Thanks for giving us a taste of this meeting. It’s good to hear something about the man behind the stories.

  34. Suzanne Tietjen

    This is some heady stuff here. I’m struggling to beat back the various other parts of my life in order to finish my third book. Intimidating, yes, but inspirational too. I’ll keep plugging away, I guess. Thanks.

  35. Amber Benton

    Andrew,

    I’ve been a quiet reader – thanks to my friend Kelly for many links from her blog to yours. Thank you so much for sharing this thing you could have kept as yours with all of us. AND I’m glad to know that I am not the only one who has wept (not just cried). It was Hannah Coulter that broke me. The son who tried to live in two places at once and wound up not being fully in either. Not being able to go back to the farm and yet not being able to leave it either. That’s me. I think it will be a while before I can read that one again, but thankfully there are many other stories to read. One that brings me joy and laughter are the Ptolemy stories.

    Thanks for your words and your music,

    Amber

  36. Susan D.

    Such hospitality and grace and heartfelt personal interest in the strangers who solicited an audience with him. What a gift. As Amber said, thank you for sharing what you could have kept as yours. I agree with JenniferT, this renews in me a desire to be “a person who honors and embraces other people with that kind of intense interest and kindness…That’s a gift, as eloquent and affecting as the gift of beautiful writing.”

    A similar response was evoked by a post by Sarah Clarkson a few months ago. Near the end she says, “I have decided that I want the narrative I tell about other people to be a hospitable sort, one that tells people into my life as Gwen told me into hers. I want there to be a fireside feel to my conversation, a sort of pull-up-a-chair invitation in my words. I want to say to each person that happens into my days, “come on in, I’m going to tell you into my story.” And by God’s grace, it’ll be a good one.”

    I am new to Wendell Berry. Does anyone have a recommendation on which book should I read first?

  37. Brian

    Susan D.,

    His poem, The Mad Farmer Liberation Front would be a good primer.

    I just finished the novel, Andy Catlett: Early Travels. This book talks mainly about the Old Way. Like all of his work, it is highly critical of modernity, but this book didn’t grab hold of me like the others have. It may be a safe induction for fiction. Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow are liable to mess you up.

    For non-fiction, any collection of essays is fine. A few essays that have followed me around are The Joy of Sales Resistance, Why I am NOT going to buy a computer, Racism and the Economy, and Christianity and the Survival of Creation.

    Be ready to be challenged and enjoy!

  38. Ernie K

    Three times in two days God has used his servants to tell me to pay attention. Guess what I’m going to do? Please don’t let me be a dummy.

    Thanks for this and for Counting Stars. Beautiful.

  39. Rebecca

    Oh, reading this made me laugh with delight and anticipation as I gained an introduction to an author I am very keen to read. I was reading Cornelia Funke’s book Inkdeath when I came across a poem, “The Peace of the Wild Things” by Wendell Berry, as one of the introductory epigrams of a chapter. I simply LOVED it. So much so that I immediately wrote it down to read later. Then, the first time I listened to your new CD, Andrew, and heard “The Magic Hour,” what do I recognize but the line that had spoken to me so deeply some months ago! I am now quite anxious to meet Mr. Berry in his books. Thank-you for your post!!

  40. Tim Joyner

    I’m ashamed to admit that I’m burning with downright envy after reading this post. After being told that Wendell Berry generally responds personally to those who write him – and sometimes includes an invitation to his farm, I drafted a letter that still resides in the pages of a journal. How can I send something that I wrote to Wendell Berry?!?

    Like you, Andrew, my life was changed drastically by Mr. Berry’s writings. I came to Nashville to study music six years ago determined to be famous and to travel the world and to chase whatever the next big thing was. Then Wendell Berry hit me like a ton of bricks – well, soft bricks full of wonder and beauty and joy. Not bricks at all really.

    I read his Sabbaths and started to hear the “Thrush song, stream song, holy love” instead of my own metallic cacophony. I read Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow the year before my marriage and learned so much more than I thought I could about Love and Family. I read his essays and they changed the course of my life.

    All that to say, if it wasn’t for Wendell Berry, I’d be a different kind of guy – and probably not one that I’s want to spend much time with.

    But as an encouragement, I’ve gotten similar inspiration from you too, Andrew. The way you love and craft words has instilled in me a deeper love for words – and shown me that I can use them in much the same ways that I use my acrylics when painting. And the themes of your songs have guided me through quite a few seasons of my life, dark and light.

    So, I guess my jealousy can make room for some appreciation. Thanks for your inspiration!

  41. Susan Kennedy

    Thank you so much for this wonderful written portrait! What a gift to find that someone so admired is truly the way you’ve perceived him to be. What an amazing experience you all shared together and with us here.

    I’m on the way now to thank my friend, Jerry, who knowing of my profound appreciation for Mr. Berry’s work forwarded this link to me!

  42. Caren MacMurchy

    But as rich and pregnant with intentional meaning as Mr. Berry’s words are, the parts do not equal the whole. His altruistic themes are a far richer treasure than the individual jewels. One can rejoice with him that the King is coming. And is, in fact, nigh to bring redemptive fingerprints. His prose are animated with the wisdom of the ages.

  43. Brindusa

    Oh, how I envy you for this!! 🙂 I fell in love with Wendell Berry’s writing after listening to a gorgeous audio version of Hannah Coulter! There are lines penned by him that have inspired some of my paintings…

    I also appreciate your music very much: it’s often given me food for thought, encouragement, the comforting feeling that someone gets exactly what I’ve been experiencing… Thank you for all that and for sharing this visit with us!

     

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