A Sticker in Kentucky

Called by its sponsor, the National Endowment for the Humanities, “the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual and public achievement in the humanities,” the annual Jefferson Lecture has been delivered by such a variety of historians, scholars, novelists, and poets as to frustrate all efforts to descry a party line among them, although individual lecturers have been famously partisan (e.g., Toni Morrison, Arthur Miller, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.).

Last year’s lecturer was the poet, novelist, cultural critic, and farmer Wendell Berry.  Those Chronicles readers who are acquainted with him and his work will not be surprised that “It All Turns on Affection” is concerned with family farming.  At least since the publication of The Unsettling of America (1977), Berry has been the foremost exponent of farming as a way of living that sustains a man, his wife, and their children, a way of living that roots a family to a particular place for generation upon generation, a way of living essential to the thriving of small communities—indeed, of all communities.  Berry’s fiction and poetry depict that way of living, and because they draw on his own family history they do so historically, culturally, and intimately.  His nonfiction is primarily advocacy and defense of that way of living.  The Jefferson...

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