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Wendell Berry Biography | Poet

Photo of Wendell Berry

Berry was born in Henry County, Kentucky in 1934, the first of four children born to John and Virginia Berry. His father was a lawyer and tobacco farmer in Henry County, and at least five generations in both his father's and mother's families have lived in Henry County as farmers. He attended secondary school at Millersburg Military Institute, and then pursued a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in English at the University of Kentucky at Lexington. In 1957, he completed his Master's degree and married Tanya Amyx. In 1958, Berry received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship and attended Stanford University's creative writing program, where he studied with Stegner in a seminar that included Larry McMurtry, Edward Abbey and Ken Kesey. In 1964 he and Tanya purchased the Lane's Landing farm close to his parents' birth places, and in 1965 moved onto the land to become farmers (of tobacco, corn and small grains) on what would eventually become a 125-acre homestead.

Berry was granted a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, which took him and his family to Italy and France in 1961. From 1962 to 1964, he taught English at New York University’s University College in the Bronx. In the fall of 1964, he began teaching creative writing at the University of Kentucky. In 1977, he resigned from the University of Kentucky. In the 1970s and early 1980s he served as an editor of, and wrote many articles for, Rodale Press publications including Organic Gardening and Farming and The New Farm. In 1987, he returned to the University of Kentucky, teaching literature and education. Today he still lives, writes and farms at Lane's Landing near Port Royal, Kentucky, alongside the Kentucky River, not far from where it flows into the Ohio.

He is a prolific author, with at least twenty-five books (or chapbooks) of poems, sixteen volumes of essays, and eleven novels and short story collections to his name. His writing is grounded in the notion that one's work ought to be rooted in and responsive to one's place. His poetic voice is direct and resonant, indebted as much to Hesiod and Virgil as to Whitman, as much to William Carlos Williams as to Ronsard, Wordsworth, or Alexander Pope.

Berry was a member of the Lindisfarne Association, a group founded by poet William Irwin Thompson for the interdisciplinary discussion of emerging consciousness, despite Berry's deep objections to the planetary trend of the group's values.

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