‘Look & See’ Showcases Kentucky Writer and Activist

Betty McGuire, Executive Assistant at SKyPac, is the facilitator for the showing of Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry at the Capitol. The film is a part of Southern Circuit tour of independent filmmakers, that will be showcasing five more films throughout the rest of the year and continuing in 2018.

Jeremy Chisenhall

The Capitol Arts Center hosted a free screening of “Look & See,” a documentary about Kentucky-born writer and political activist Wendell Berry on Tuesday night.

Berry is a Kentucky native, born in Henry County, who has written more than 40 books and poems, and he has won 18 awards for that writing, according to the Wendell Berry Books website. Berry has taught at several different universities, including the University of Kentucky, which is his Alma mater.

Berry’s writing covers several different formats, including novels, poems and essays. This makes him hard to categorize, as his wife, Tanya Berry, states in the film.

“Some people would think he’s a novelist and some think he’s an essayist and some think he’s a poet — and it kind of drifts off into nothing in particular,” Tanya Berry said.

The producer and director of the film, Laura Dunn, also said it’s hard to label him. Not just in his writing format, but also in his different fields of work.

“I wouldn’t classify Berry. He is a committed inter-disciplinarian,” Dunn said in an email. “I can’t imagine he would want his work segmented into different categories. My guess is that he would say that the writing, the activism, the teaching, the being a good neighbor and living well on the land, being a good husband (hopefully) and father, that these things are all connected and part of a whole, that one doesn’t exist without the other.”

Berry’s writing and activism has often primarily focused on agricultural practices in America. He protests industrialized agriculture and voices his support for practices of living off the land.

“To cherish what remains of [Earth], and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope,” Berry said in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays.

Berry’s preference of sustainable farming isn’t the only reason he’s become so well-known in agricultural debate. It’s also because of the fact that he’s held this stance on the issue for such a long time. Berry is currently 83 years old, and became more outspoken on farming in the 1970s.

“He was so far ahead of his time,” said Roiann Ridley, a fan of Berry and a viewer of the documentary.

She praised Berry for proclaiming that farming had to be done in a renewable fashion long before many others said the same thing.

Bob Roddy, another viewer of the documentary, repeatedly brought up that he liked Berry’s belief that humans should farm so that the land becomes a renewable resource, and that even though Berry has had the same views since the 1970s, the farmers of the future need to carry that same belief.

Berry hasn’t just been outspoken about farming practices, but has been an activist for other political issues as well. In his first nonfiction novel, The Long-Legged House, Berry expressed his discontent with America’s participation in the Vietnam War, and his dislike of wars in general.

“Wars have never made peace or preserved it or fostered its ideals. To have peace you must make peace with your enemy,” Berry wrote. “Far from making peace, wars invariably serve as classrooms and laboratories where men and techniques and states of mind are prepared for the next war.”

Berry again made a stand for his political beliefs in 2010, when he pulled his papers from UK’s library due to the university’s relationship with the coal industry.

“I don’t think the University of Kentucky can be so ostentatiously friendly to the coal industry … and still be a friend to me and the interests for which I have stood for the last 45 years,” Berry said according to an article published by the Lexington Herald-Leader. “If they love the coal industry that much, I have to cancel my friendship.”

He also owns The Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky, a non-profit organization focused on “advocating for farmers, land-conserving communities, and healthy regional economies,” according to the center’s official website.

Berry currently lives and works on his farm in Port Royal, Kentucky, with his wife, according to his website.

Reporter Jeremy Chisenhall can be reached at 859-760-0198 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @JSChisenhall.