Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger and photographer Ryan Beiler spent a Sunday afternoon in February with Wendell Berry at his farm in Henry County, Kentucky. Berry is the author of more than 40 books of fiction, poetry, and essays including The Unsettling of America, What are People For?, Life is a Miracle, Citizenship Papers, and The Art of the Commonplace. He has farmed in a traditional manner for nearly 40 years.
Sojourners: How does your identity as a writer connect to this region and land?
Wendell Berry: I was born here in Henry County. I grew up in these little towns, and in the countryside, on the farms. All my early memories are here. All the voices that surrounded me from the time I became able to hear were from here. This place where we're sitting today is the old property known as Lane's Landing. Twelve acres, more or less, the deed says. My wife, Tanya, and I came back here in 1964 and have lived here for 39 years, raised our children here. How could you draw a line separating this place and my identity? If you've known these places from your early youth, that means that you have a chance to know them in a way that other people never will.
We're on the west side of the Kentucky River, in the Kentucky River Valley. Some people call this the Outer Bluegrass. An old ocean laid down these layers of limestone in the soil. There are lots of trees here. There are white, chinquapin, red, black, and shumard oaks. Those are the principal ones.