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Internationally-acclaimed poet, essayist Wendell Berry gives reading at Warren Wilson College

by Mariah Parker, Multimedia Editor

Wendell Berry takes a pause from reading his story in the Chapel Wednesday night. Photo by Josh Reiss

“His values and emphases–such as creative writing, sustainable agriculture, local economies, environmental stewardship, and the importance of the labor required to support a community– closely match those of the College,” said Undergraduate Writing Program Director Catherine Reid. “It’s an enormous honor to have him choose Warren Wilson, as he travels little these days and limits his engagements during the year.”

In preparation for Berry’s visit, classes across campus read Berry’s essays and responded to teaching prompts supplied by Reid and the Environmental Leadership Center. In addition, Matthews compiled and distributed a chapbook entitled “The Responsibility of the Poet,” in which 35 poets from across the country respond to an excerpt from Berry’s The Poet’s Responsibility.

The chapbook features local poets such as creative writing professors Gary Hawkins and Landon Godfrey as well as national poets such as Bob Hicok, Dana Levin, and North Carolina poet laureate Kathryn Stipling Byer. On Wednesday, Nov. 9, community members joined internationally-acclaimed poet and essayist Wendell Berry at the Chapel for a reading of excerpts from his latest collection of essays, entitled The Poet’s Responsibility.

“It’s like the build-up for a rock star coming in for a concert.” creative writing professor Sebastian Matthews said of the days leading up to Berry’s visit. “He’s an icon, and for him to come here speaks a lot about our students and our community.”

The author of more than 40 works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1962, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in 1965, and, most recently, the National Humanities Award in 2010.

“[Berry’s] essay focuses on the ‘reminding’ that takes place when one reads a good poem,” explained Reid. “[Sebastian’s chapbook] represents a collective tugging at and teasing out of some of Berry’s ideas.”

A long-time environmentalist, political activist, and supporter of small farmers, Berry has actively fought the death penalty, nuclear power, environmental degradation, fossil-fuel dependency, and the destruction of rural communities during his extensive career.

“As a poet, I feel you need to serve as a witness to misdeeds, injustices, prejudices,” Matthews said. “I thought a project that focused on Berry’s role as an outspoken poet might generate some discussion among the Wilson writers.”

Copies of “The Responsibility of the Poet” are available in PDF format by request. For more information about Berry’s work, visit www.wendellberrybooks.com.


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