Thursday, June 24, 2010


Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry, America's clarion voice of respect for land and people (and my personal literary guru), has severed his life-long relationship with the University of Kentucky and withdrawn all his papers from the university's archives due to its unholy alliance with the coal industry.

[UPDATE 1 - 24 June 2010: Detailed report on Mr Berry's protests against coal industry influence at the UK.]

[UPDATE 2 - 24 June 2010: Breaking news and online resources at Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky.]

Here's the local editorial reaction from the Lexington [Kentucky] Herald-Leader.

Berry has serious message for UK's future

Transferring his donated personal papers from the University of Kentucky to the Kentucky Historical Society is an act of principle for which Wendell Berry deserves commendation.

But really, we would expect no less from the noted novelist, essayist and poet.

He has spent a lifetime promoting respect for nature — for the land that can nourish us and for the landscape that can have a nurturing influence on us.

It seems only natural then that he would find some way to express his displeasure when his university, the one where he both studied and taught, crawls in bed with an industry that blasts mountains apart, fills adjacent valleys with rubble and destroys or pollutes waterways in the pursuit of profit.

UK — indeed, the whole state of Kentucky — endured a few days as the butt of a national joke after the school's trustees agreed to paste "Wildcat Coal Lodge" on an unnecessary new basketball dormitory in exchange for donation of the $7 million construction cost.

Now, we're seeing a more serious consequence of the decision to sell the university's soul — a severing of ties between one of Kentucky's most esteemed men of letters and the state's flagship institution of higher education.

While a short drive still will gain UK students and faculty access to the papers Berry is transferring, the loss of the relationship between the university and writer himself will be felt.

And it's likely others of Berry's intellectual level who might be thinking of associating themselves with UK in the future will look at Wildcat Coal Lodge and decide their knowledge and skills will be better appreciated elsewhere.

The lost benefits of their scholarship will never be known or quantified because their presence will never be felt on the campus. But the loss will be real, nonetheless.

More about Wendell Berry here.

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