News & Resources


Au Sable Graduate Fellows Conference Features Writer, Farmer Wendell Berry

Jan 15, 2014

The Au Sable Graduate Fellows will open their annual conference this January with “A Conversation with Wendell Berry,” held just outside of Berry’s home town of Port Royal, Kentucky.

In its largest conference to date, thirty-one graduate fellows will have opportunity to dialogue with one of the world’s most thoughtful, passionate, and consistent voices on caring for God’s Earth and the necessity of grounding environmental stewardship in place, community, and practice. Berry will not only speak from his years of prolific and diverse writings on these topics, with works stretching across twenty-seven books of poetry, fifteen works of fiction, and thirty books of essays, but from his learned experience as a Kentucky farmer on his own family farm.

Rolf Bouma, Graduate Fellows Coordinator and conference organizer, explains, "There's a gravitas to Wendell's thinking and writing that forces you to think beyond the ordinary. For graduate students, he serves as an excellent model for bringing love of creation into the heart of environmental concern.”

It's Berry's insight into the environmental consequences of our social behaviors and his willingness to stand up for what he believes is right that has environmental writers and activists like Bill McKibben calling him a modern "prophet of responsibility." However, as Berry says, when his writing "hasn't been in defense of precious things" -- in books such as 'The Unsettling of America,' 'The Art of the Commonplace,' 'Life is a Miracle', and 'What are People for?' -- "it has been about giving thanks for precious things" -- in writings like his 'Sabbath' poems.

Au Sable Executive Director Fred Van Dyke says, “People see ways to change their future world when they spend time with people who have changed the present one. The opportunity Au Sable grad fellows will have this year to listen to and interact with Wendell Berry will be one of those opportunities to see the possibility for this kind of change, and it is right that the Institute should be part of inspiring their future vision to create it.” 

Fellows from ten Graduate Fellows chapters across the United States, including University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Cornell University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of California-Berkeley, Purdue University, Princeton Theological Seminary, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Minnesota, and The Ohio State University, will be challenged and shaped by Berry's words as they explore the conference theme of 'For the Love of God's Earth,' a theme developed from Berry's book titled, 'It All Turns on Affection.'

Berry lives with his wife, Tanya, on their family's land in Port Royal, Kentucky where he is writer, farmer, and neighbor to his children and grandchildren. For his work, he recently has received of The National Humanities Medal, became a Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and receivied the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, an "annual U.S. literary award recognizing power of the written word to promote peace." He delivered the 2012 Jefferson Lecture, "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities," which he titled, "It All Turns on Affection." Berry is an advocate against strip mining, for the 50-year farm bill with his friend Wes Jackson, and for small, diverse farmers and local economies.

The Graduate Fellows program brings together Christian graduate students pursuing Master's and PhD degrees that intersect with environmental studies. The Au Sable Graduate Fellows program, and its conference, provide a space to explore the intersection of their vocational calling and professional practices with a firm biblical understanding of God's call for our human relationship with the earth. These graduate fellows chapters serve as communities to prepare future leaders in academia, government agencies, community organizations, and private enterprise with the theological resources and convictions for serving as caretakers of God's earth.

Quotes from Wendell Berry in his recent interview on 'His Hopes for Humanity' with Bill Moyers:

“There’s no justification for the permanent destruction of the world. And I believe, and I’ve written out of it for many years, is that the world and our life in it are conditional gifts. We have the world to live in, and the use of it to live from, on the condition, that we will take good care of it. And to take good care of it, we have to know it, and we have to know how to take care of it, and to know it, and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it. And we’ve ignored all that all these years.”

“People of religious faith know that the world is maintained every day by the same force that created it. It’s an article of my faith and belief that all creatures live by breathing God’s breath and participating in his spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy – the whole shootin’ match. There are no sacred and unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places. So finally I see those gauges in the surface mine country as desecrations, not just as land abuse, not just as human oppression, but as desecration. As blasphemy.”