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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2018

Literary Icon Wendell Berry Continues to Champion Ideals

Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry

By Joel Smith | May 01, 2007

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Wendell Berry was one of the most anticipated guest speakers to step onto the King College campus. By March 26, his reputation more than preceded him; it seemed to grow on its own as word of his appearance spread around the campus weeks before his arrival. But when he stood to speak in the Chapel during his first public appearance at King, you would have thought, had you not seen him, that this reserved, average-looking man possessed a giant's commanding stature. Both students and members of the local community packed the building, eager to hear what he had to say.

Berry is the author of more than 40 books of essays, poetry and novels. He is famous for his William-Faulkneresque Port William ongoing fiction and his passionate supporting stance on technical and economical frugality, healthy communities, connection and reverence for nature, place, and life, global sustainable agriculture, and local economics.

At King, he read a lecture he had given at a science seminar on the use of biofuels. In this lecture he claims that the focus of "limitless" capabilities in technology and economics innate to national superpowers propels us, the technological superpower(s) of the world, deeper into moral minimalism. This moral minimalism, according to Berry, has produced in us threats to the values listed above, threats such as hubris, ignorance, greed and unjust payment of the working class, violence against others, destruction of the natural world, separation and disharmony in communities, and industrial living.

He emphasized that limits are important for harmony, especially in a time when capability and justification are synonymous to the modern way of thinking:

"We must have limits or we will cease to exist as humans...or cease to exist at all." It is a danger that demands immediate action, he continued: "To recover from limitlessness, we must give up the idea that we are Godlike creatures and learn again to make the most of what we are, what we have been given. . .We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. . .We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it."

He also shared two new installments of the ongoing Port William fiction for which he is popular. This fictional world created by Berry explores the lifestyle of pursuing a "human economy ... conducted by reverence" and how such a lifestyle might impact social thought and human virtues on a local scale.

After reading his new stories he offered book signings to all attending and fellowshipped with the masses.

Berry's stay was short but he left a powerful impression on King College and the surrounding communities, gently but firmly challenging our lifestyle's apologetics, faith, work ethic, and values through his speech and his stories.

Joel Smith is King College's first Technical and Professional Communication graduate. He plans to work as a photographer or a graphic designer in the Tri-Cities area.


A! ExtraTopics: Literature