Wendell Berry, American writer and farmer, is the winner of the 2012 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. Considered by many as the intellectual heir of the 20th century agrarian movement, Berry has spent his career exploring man’s relationship with the land and the community in his more than 50 works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.
In 2010, Berry received a National Humanities Medal for his achievements as a poet, novelist, farmer and conservationist. In 2012, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Berry to deliver the 41st annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, which is the federal government’s most prestigious honor for intellectual achievement in the humanities.
The 78-year-old Kentuckian, who farms 125 acres near Port Royal, Ky., with his wife, Tanya, has established himself as a principled presence in American letters. Berry is known for his advocacy for small-scale agriculture, and the virtues of rural life and traditional values, such as marital fidelity and strong community ties. In an interview in the New Perspectives Quarterly, Berry once said: “Today, local economies are being destroyed by the ‘pluralistic,’ displaced, global economy, which has no respect for what works in a locality. The global economy is built on the principle that one place can be exploited, even destroyed, for the sake of another place.”
Berry began his prestigious career in 1960 with the release of the novel “Nathan Coulter,” set in Port William, a fictitious town located in Kentucky. Port William also is the backdrop for many of Berry’s short stories, as well as a number of his other novels, including “Jayber Crow” (2000), “Hannah Coulter” (2004) and “Andy Catlett: Early Travels” (2006).
It was as a poet that Berry first gained literary recognition with volumes such as “The Broken Ground” (1964), “Openings: Poems” (1968), “Farming: A Handbook” (1970) and “The Country of Marriage” (1973). His most recent poetry collections are “Given: New Poems” (2005), “The Mad Farmer Poems” (2008) and “Leavings: Poems” (2010).
Other works by Berry include the essay collections “Citizenship Papers” (2004) and “The Way of Ignorance” (2005), and the 2008 children’s book “Whitefoot: A Story From the Center of the World,” illustrated by Davis Te Selle.
During his distinguished career, Berry has garnered numerous awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (1962), a National Institute of Arts and Letters award for writing (1971), the American Academy of Arts and Letters Jean Stein Award (1987), the Ingersoll Foundation’s T.S. Eliot Award (1994), O. Henry Prize for short story (2005), the Conference on Christianity and Literature’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2005), and the Fellowship of Southern Writers’ Cleanth Brooks Medal for Lifetime Achievement (2009).