For five decades now, author and activist Wendell Berry has explored the themes of conservation, community and simple living from his farm in his native Kentucky. The author of more than 50 books has received a lot of recognition along the way — including the National Humanities Medal, which he received from President Barack Obama in 2011 — and now he has one more to add to the list. The Dayton Literary Peace Prize announced this week that Berry will be the recipient of this year's Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award.
The Dayton Literary Peace Prize, named after the peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia in 1995, recognizes literary achievements that promote peace, social justice and understanding. Previous winners of the distinguished achievement award — named after the diplomat who had an important role in the 1995 accords — include Studs Terkel, Geraldine Brooks, Barbara Kingsolver and Tim O'Brien.
Sharon Rab, founder and co-chair of the foundation that runs the literary prize, praised Berry. "In a career spanning more than half a century, Wendell Berry has used poetry, fiction, and essays to offer a consistent, timely, and timeless reminder that we must live in harmony with the earth in order to live in harmony with each other. His writing has inspired readers to imagine the lives of people and things other than themselves — enemies, neighbors, plants, and animals — in order to advance the survival of humankind and Earth itself."
In an interview with the Washington Post, Berry said his goal as a poet and fiction writer "was to write a good poem and tell a good story." He also discussed the themes of his work: "I have as a storyteller, and somewhat as a poet, been stuck with the story of the decline of rural life in all its aspects during my lifetime. And so I've told that story, and I suppose it has a potential instructiveness."
Berry's numerous books include "The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture," "What Are People For?," "Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food," and "The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural." Many of his fiction books and stories are set in the invented town of Port William, modeled after the real Kentucky town in which he lives and farms.
In addition to the distinguished achievement award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize will also honor one novelist and one non-fiction writer, whose names will be announced later this month.
The Dayton award is not Berry's only recognition this month. A two-disc album, "Celebrating Wendell Berry in Music," has just been released. Andrew Maxfield, who wrote the sheet music and produced the album, told the Salt Lake Tribune this week that the set was seven years in the making.
Meanwhile, Berry's legacy lives on beyond his books. St. Catharine College in Kentucky is currently accepting scholarship applications for the Berry Farming Program, which combines both culture and agriculture. The school hopes to attract students from South America, the Indian sub-continent and sub-Saharan Africa who could take the lessons of sustainable agriculture back home after their studies.
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