Internationally known author Wendell Berry created a controversy when he pulled many of his personal papers from the University of Kentucky archives because he objected to the naming of Wildcat Coal Lodge.
Berry's decision saddened him and generated a mix of disappointment and support from his friends in the academic and writing community.
One of Kentucky's most prolific writers on conservation, sustainable farming and environmental issues, Berry, 75, is consistently a best-selling author at the November Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort.
He has authored 50 books of essays, poetry and fiction, and has received numerous awards for his work.
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Berry and his wife, Tanya, sat down June 24 for an interview at their 117-acre hillside farm, Lanes Landing, on the Kentucky River in northeastern Henry County.
He talked at length about the UK issue and much more.
His papers — which measure 60 cubic feet in volume and would fill about 100 boxes — probably will be transferred to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort. The papers include letters he has received over the years, drafts of various books and corrected proofs.
He says he has no time frame for the transfer.
UK purchased some of Berry's papers, and those will stay in the UK libraries archives' permanent collection.
Berry received bachelor's and master's degrees at UK. He taught at his alma mater from 1964 until 1977 and from 1987 through 1993.
In the recent State Journal interview, Berry said the state "desperately needs good teachers who can prepare people to be responsible Kentuckians, who can teach the structure of local ecosystems, economic history of the state, and the political and social history.
"Rather than trying to be nationally or globally prominent as a great research institution, if the University of Kentucky would meet its local responsibilities and really meet the needs of the land and the people of this state, it would be a city on a hill.
"Everybody would come here to find out what they're doing and how they're doing it and what the results are."
Berry says he's given up public speaking and traveling for the most part but will continue to help promote a "50-Year Farm Bill" proposed by friend Wes Jackson at The Land Institute in Kansas.
"And I'm going to continue to work against mountaintop removal," he says.
"Being here on our farm is increasingly satisfactory to me. This is a beautiful place and I know the country. I've got memories everywhere."
Here are portions of the June 24 interview with Berry.
Question: Talk about what has happened regarding the decision to pull many of your personal papers from the University of Kentucky's archives.
Answer: I'm sad about it. The ideal thing would have been for my papers to be there. ... I was not at all inclined to make an issue of the university's manifest lack of concern about surface mining in Eastern Kentucky and its ecological implications, its implications for the forests, for the survival of the wild creatures and maybe preeminently for the rural people there that a land grant university is mandated to look after and help. This form of mining is literally hell for the people who live near those mine sites. I know some of them and I've heard the testimony of many others, and I've seen with my own eyes what they're going through.
I understood that it was probably too much to expect, even a land grant university, to take an interest in those things. But when the university accepted that ($7 million) gift and agreed to name their basketball dormitory after the coal industry, that meant they had passed over from indifference to a manifest alliance with the coal industry. I don't think a university ought to make an alliance with any industry.
Q: Do you have any hope that mountaintop-removal mining will stop before all the mountains are gone?
A: Of course I hope it will stop. I hope it can be stopped and I have publicly stated my willingness to do what's necessary to stop it (including) doing non-violent resistance. I don't think there's any room yet to be optimistic about mountaintop removal. ...
But all the causes I've served have mostly gotten worse. The same ruin is being inflicted on farmland all over the country. It's just slower. It's more toxic. There's more soil loss. We're losing 130 acres a day in Kentucky to development. More advanced states are using it up faster. I wrote a book called The Unsettling of America, published in 1977, and it includes a criticism of the land grant system. The tragedy of that book is it's more pertinent today than it ever was. But you put your shoulder against this. You push, and if you don't move anything, so what, you tried.
Q: Do you have a TV?
A: No. We don't have a computer. We don't have an electric typewriter. We don't have an answering machine. We don't have a fax machine. I don't have a cell phone. I will say I take a certain pride in that all my first drafts are produced on solar or wood heat.
Q: Do you still use a team of horses on the farm?
Q: You don't have a tractor?
A: No. But I'm not a fanatic. My son has a tractor and he's nearby, and if we need a tractor he comes with his. But my grandson and I are clipping pastures now. He's 15 and he's a good hand with a team of horses. I can put him to work and go off and leave him now. We are to some extent employing our own bodily power and our horses and so on, and doing a little bit to save oil.
Q: When you were younger, did you have a desire to be a famous writer?
A: I had a great desire to be a writer. I didn't desire to be a famous one. I wanted to be a good one. Ken Kesey, a very good friend of mine who was a famous writer, said fame is a wart, and he meant it. It's a disfigurement. You're not famous as yourself; you're famous for what people think you are. It's a caricature.
Q: Do you write poetry every day?
A: No. I write poems when they come to me. I may have a notebook and look at it every day if I have any new work in it to see if it can be improved.
Q: Do you write every day?
A: I try to.
Q: On a typewriter?
A: Longhand. I get a longhand draft, and Tanya types it on this old Royal standard typewriter I got when I graduated from college. Then I have a friend who does my computer work at a price per page.
Q: Why haven't you gone to a computer?
A: I just don't want to. I just don't want to be a part of that crowd that rushes out and buys every damn gadget that comes on the market. I'm just not going to do it. I don't need it. I like to work in the quiet. I have a system of writing that is very satisfactory. I use a spiral notebook, and I write on the right-hand page. Anything I want to add I put on the left-hand page. If I don't like what I've done, I rip pages out and start all over again. It's pretty good technology. I have a pencil and eraser. It's wonderful new technology, that eraser is.