Noted Kentucky author and agrarian Wendell Berry decides enough is a enough and pulls his loaned papers from the University of Kentucky after they rename Wildcat Lodge to Wildcat Coal Lodge. He felt it was just the last straw of movement in a direction that was counter to his beliefs and the way he has lived his life. Berry is someone I have meant to mention here on the blog before now, but this gives a good reason to label him as a hero here on the blog and say a bit about him. To begin, he is a 75-year-old poet writer who is also regularly labelled as a ‘mad farmer’…
Berry is a native of Kentucky who still resides in Henry County not far from the Ohio River to this day. Ironically he received both a bachelors and masters degree from the University of Kentucky and on two occasions was a professor at the institution. His literary work is well-known and has not only depth but a breadth of styles and types. He is probably best known for his poetry and the fictional tales set in his beloved Port Royal.
My personal fascination comes from his numerous essays and other prose regarding the land and agriculture though I am sure that comes as little surprise. While I think it would give him to much credit to label him as the father of the modern agrarian movement, to not include him in the group of founders for such would be a similar discredit. His writings on the subject abound and in almost all cases I find myself agreeing with his viewpoint on such matters. While his writing on such is much more encompassing then this, one predominant theme is the loss of culture that has and continues to occur as America moves away from agriculture roots.
Truthfully, if worked in reverse it almost always represents what the agrarian movement is about. For instance, slow food and obtaining what you eat locally, knowing who grew it and the processes that were used – means you will become acquainted with the farmers that grew that food. Indeed a farmers market is a mini culture in a way, especially if you visit one and are not used to such things.
While I could go on for days about his writings and the common thoughts upon which we agree, I want to touch base a bit on the removal of his papers from the university. Keep in mind, Berry has had disagreements over the direction the university has been heading the last several years. He feels that the move toward what he labels as the ‘industrial model‘ of education has left students receiving less than a well-rounded education. Again, I have to agree, coming from a well-balanced liberal arts education and having taught at a career college for a few years, I think we short change a lot of students.
Recently however, the university received a large sum of funds from a group known to have huge ties to the coal industry. It is unclear if it was required that the new Wildcat Lodge (where the basketball student athletes reside on campus) be named thus with receipt of the money or not, but the new name is going to be the Wildcat Coal Lodge. At these, Berry, who works his farm with horses and only writes during the daylight to limit his own usage of carbon based fuels, chose to remove his papers that have been on loan to the university. Taking a stand for that which he believes and truly being the hero – after all, it is easy to tack a stand when you are not going against the grain.
Keep in mind, the University of Kentucky owns a fair amount of his papers, having purchased them in the past. And unfortunately those papers will apparently stay within the collections and archives at library of the university. Some have suggested that those should also be removed, but I hate to point out the university owns those and at least thus far no offer of selling such as been made.
If more of us took to our beliefs to the same level as Berry has done and clearly continues to do, who knows, maybe, just maybe all the push for oil would have been just enough less that maybe the oil spill in the Gulf could have been avoided.
For more information regarding Wendell Berry pulling his writings, check out the article on kentucky.com.
** – Image from the cover of a recent book, Wendell Berry: Life and Work