Wendell Berry’s voice is rich and mellow, carrying a slight grit that comes from weathering, age, and experience. His accent is strong enough to flavor his words but mild enough to soothe his listeners. It is a surprisingly gentle voice for one so radical.
I sit listening to the Kentucky gentleman. With me are a hundred or so other students, scholars, a delegation of sisters—Dominican nuns from Nashville—and an assortment of local and not-so-local notables.
We are gathered in a conference room of Louisville’s famed Seelbach Hotel, hosted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the Philadelphia Society, and the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center. The Seelbach is a glamorous relic, evoking the Roaring Twenties, when Fitzgerald sampled the hotel’s cigars and bourbon, and chose this sumptuous Bavarian tower as the site for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s wedding reception.
Our luncheon guest of honor seems to feel slightly out of place within this monument to cosmopolitan living, and he has a renowned shyness when it comes to the public spotlight. So Mr. Berry does what all skilled wordsmiths do when wishing to deflect the mind’s eye of the collective from himself: He assumes the role of narrator. Instead of giving a speech, he renders himself invisible by telling a story and redirecting illumination onto the spiritual echoes...