Meet and Greet

Authors, poets read, sign books
at Berry Center event

The daylong program showcased many Ky. authors

NEW CASTLE, Ky. (December 23018) – The Berry Center in New Castle, Ky., is a non-profit organization established by Wendell Berry in 2011 to help restore vitality to rural America through awareness of good land use and revitalization of local farm economies. Berry’s deep reverence for the land and agrarian values is evidenced in his many celebrated works of poetry, fiction and essays. The Berry Center is a living tribute to the land, the farmers who work it, and lifestyles that sustain it.
On Nov. 10, several hundred people braved the cold weather to venture out to the Berry Center and enjoy presentations by some of Kentucky’s most eminent writers and artisans at the fourth annual Kentucky Arts and Letters Day. The Berry Center Gallery featured wood engravings by Wesley Bates, Joanne Price and Carolyn Whitesel. The readings by featured authors reflected their rural, Kentucky roots and respect for its people, its farming heritage and the natural environment that supports it all.

Photo by Sue Stamper

Ed McClanahan was among the authors and poets who took part in the Berry Center event.

The audience thoroughly enjoyed readings by former Kentucky Poet Laureate Maureen Morehead, Larkspur Press Gray Zeitz and Leslie Shane, and noted authors Jonathan Greene and Rebecca Gayle Howell. Morehead’s readings shone light on Kentucky life, its people, places, weather, nature and animals. Zeitz’s humor shone through on his poems: “Why I Like the New Road,” What I Am Thankful For,” and “Moving Firewood in March.” Many of Shane’s readings were dedicated to her daughter, Callie, and other women whom she respectfully referred to as “The Grandmothers.”
Greene read small amounts from three recent books, including a collection of poems titled “In the Pumpkin Patch.” A memorable line from “Real Wealth” defined it as “having enough firewood for three winters.” Each of these authors skillfully take seemingly mundane images to a heightened awareness of the reality we hold at our fingertips.
After a short intermission, the audience responded enthusiastically to readings by authors Maurice Manning, Mary Ann Taylor-Hall, Ed McClanahan and Bobbie Ann Mason. Manning read from “Planting Trees in God’s Country,” recalling the planting of 800 acorns on a mountain top removal area. His works also recalled three old mountain women “born to a hard place of people.”
Hall, who started writing poetry at age 10, read from “The Mountain’s Tree,” a poignant piece recollecting the fall of the biggest tree on the mountain, the loss of shelter to animals and the loss of the path that a boy once made to that tree because it was the biggest on the mountain.

Wendell Berry

McClanahan introduced his reading as a tribute to his wife, Hilda, and it turned out to be a witty recount of a disastrous ride through an automatic car wash and the need for hearing aids. The audience responded with rounds of hearty laughter at his troublesome experiences with both.
A native of Brooksville, Ky., and born in 1932, McClanahan has authored numerous works, including the popular “Famous People I Have Known,” “O the Clear Moment,” “A Congress of Wonders” and “The Natural Man.”
Readers look forward to the publication of a new book currently in the works which he says will be essentially a memoir. Gifted with his unique and entertaining writing style, the new book will undoubtedly be another popular offering.
Mason concluded the day’s readings with selections from her latest work, “Patchwork.” Raised on her family’s dairy farm in Western Kentucky, she understands the struggles of American life. “Patchwork” contains fine examples of the award-winning writing of this esteemed American author. The book contains short stories, chapters from some of her acclaimed novels, some nonfiction excerpts, and some writings never before published. Other notable works by Mason include “Shiloh and Other Stories,” “In Country” and “The Girl Sleuth: A Feminist Guide. Shiloh and Other Stories” reflects the lives of working-class people in a changing rural society. The collection was awarded the PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction. “Clear Springs,” depicting three generations of an American farm family throughout the 20th century, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. 

Bobbie Ann Mason

The day’s events wrapped up with Berry and poet-author Crystal Wilkinson in conversation about the legacy of the land, the old ways of rural life and the loss of that lifestyle over the past decades. Berry remembered his grandfather, born in 1864, and the other good farmers of that generation who endured great hardships from the troubled economic and natural environments of the 1890s through the 1930s. Still, he said they persisted with a love for the land, love for their families and neighbors, and “an unquenchable passion for the things of that life.”
Wilkinson spoke of the themes of home place and the lives of its people, the cost of moving from that home place, and a collective communal memory. She spoke of the memories of her childhood and how “every tree and voice of an elder come to mind” as a writer. 
Virginia Berry Aguilar is director of the Berry Center Agrarian Culture Center and Bookstore. She explains that a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant helped support the day’s event and allowed for 400 people in the Henry County community to read “A Lesson Before Dying” by Dr. Ernest J. Gaines, who has been a friend of Wendell Berry’s for 60 years.
Wilkinson was the 2016 recipient of the Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence, awarded annually to emerging African-American writers.
“It was moving to see the conversations that have been happening throughout Henry County over the past few months about race, social justice, African-American agrarianism and much more, culminate in this keynote conversation between Mr. Berry and Ms. Wilkinson,” Aguilar said.

Crystal Wilkinson

The Berry Center’s location in the small town of New Castle holds true to the its emphasis on support for local farming economies; however, the impact of its mission and outreach is global. When Wendell Berry’s “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture” was published in 1977, it sparked an international debate on the grim state of agriculture and its implications for the future. The center’s vision is to help solve local and global issues including “the devastation of natural resources and biodiversity; rapid onset of climate change; economic and social inequities; and the collapse of healthy farming and rural communities.”
Visitors come from worldwide to visit the Berry Center’s Agrarian Culture Center and Bookstore and to explore the Berry Farming Program that offers holistic, place-based, agrarian training and undergraduate coursework through Sterling College. Another valuable program is Our Home Place Meat that operates a cooperative for Henry County livestock farmers to sell to local markets.

Anyone interested in supporting the ongoing work of the Berry Center by becoming a member can find more information on the center’s website at berrycenter.org/support/membership

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