What a coup! Organisers of this year’s Wisconsin Book Festival have secured a personal appearance by Kentucky farmer and nationally acclaimed poet and writer Wendell Berry.
Festival director Alison Jones Chaim said, there was a feeling of doom and gloom about the economy, but poet, novelist and essayist Wendell Berry is just the tonic the festival goers need.
He is clear that we all have to embrace a cut in living standards. As he told Progressive magazine earlier this year: “I don’t think we can take (environmental reform) seriously until people begin to talk seriously about lowering the standard of living. When people begin to see affluence, economic growth, unrestrained economic behavior as the enemies of the environment, then we can take it seriously. But people are saying, “Give us everything we want and a clean environment,” and that isn’t a possibility.
“Either we will redistribute power so as to provide equality of participation and respect and protection or we will perish as a democratic state.”
Berry is just the man for an audience which has been tossed like flotsam on the sea of mortgage difficulties. The underlying rot in our economy, would be summed up by Berry as the triumph of making money (and of consumption) at the expense of attention to the production of goods people really need and to the care of people, communities and the natural gifts of creation. The challenge for Berry is to use this crisis to move the economy toward what Wendell calls “good work” that honors God, the neighbor and creation.
Festival staff have been trying to get him to come since before the first festival was held, Chaim said.
“He doesn’t do much,” Chaim said of his public appearances. “He keeps much of his schedule free for writing and being at home.”
Berry’s appearance was helped by underwriting from the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Farming, community, the environment and land are major themes throughout Berry’s writings. He has written more than 40 books, with another collection of his poetry coming out in November.
Others scheduled to appear include Lorrie Moore, a UW English professor whose novel, “A Gate at the Stairs,” is due to be released Sept. 1; Michael Perry, author of “Coop,” “Truck: A Love Story” and “Population: 485”; David Rhodes, author of “Driftless”; cartoonist and illustrator Lynda Barry; and famed underground cartoonist Harvey Pekar.