Telling the Stories Right

Telling the Stories Right: Wendell Berry’s Imagination of Port William (Front Porch Republic Books, 2018).

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Wendell Berry thinks of himself as a storyteller. It’s somewhat ironic then that he is better known as an essayist, a poet, and an advocate for small farmers. The essays in this collection consider the many facets of Berry’s life and work, but they focus on his efforts as a novelist and story writer. Indeed, Berry had already published three novels before his seminal work of cultural criticism, The Unsettling of America, established him as an ardent defender of local communities and sustainable agriculture. And over the past fifty years, he has published eight novels and more than forty-eight short stories set in the imagined community of Port William. His exquisite rendering of this small Kentucky town challenges us to see the beauty of our own places and communities and to tend their health, threatened though it inevitably is. The twelve contributors to this collection approach Berry’s fiction from a variety of perspectives—literary studies, journalism, theology, history, songwriting—to shed light on its remarkable ability to make a good life imaginable and compelling. The first collection devoted to Berry’s fiction, this volume insists that any consideration of Berry’s work must begin with his stories.

Table of Contents

PART 1: NARRATIVE TRADITIONS

  1. Re-membering the Past Rightly: The Ubi Sunt Tradition in Wendell Berry’s Fiction, by Jack R. Baker
  2. Dreaming in Port William: Foreknowledge, Consolation, and Medieval Dream Vision Literature, by Ingrid Pierce
  3. Called to Affection: Exploring the Ecology of Christian Vocation in Port William, by Kiara Jorgenson
  4. Between the City and the Classroom: Stanford, Stegner, and the Class of ‘58, by Doug Sikkema

PART 2: BEAUTY’S INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Andy Catlett’s Missing Hand: Making Do as Wounded Members, by Jeffrey Bilbro
  2. The Gift of Good Death: Revising Nathan Coulter, by Ethan Mannon
  3. Living Faithfully in the Debt of Love in Wendell Berry’s Port William, by Fritz Oehlschlaeger
  4. Hiding in the Hedgerows: Wendell Berry’s Treatment of Marginal Characters, by Michael R. Stevens

PART 3: RESPONDING TO THE STORIES

  1. Kentucky River Journal, by Eric Miller
  2. “The End of All Our Exploring”: Homecoming and Creation in Remembering, by Gracy Olmstead
  3. “I’ve Got to Get to My People”: Returning Home with Jayber Crow, by Jake Meador
  4. On Resurrection and Other Agrarian Matters: How the Barber of Port William Changed My Life, by Andrew Peterson

Endorsements and Reviews

“The next best thing to reading Berry is to read those who write about Berry’s writing. We should be extremely grateful that we now have this collection of wise investigations of Berry’s novels and short stories. These essays do what they were meant to do which is nothing less than celebrate Berry’s fertile imagination.” Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Divinity and Law and Duke University.

“When I encounter readers, who share Wendell Berry’s concerns but are unfamiliar with his work, I urge them to begin with his fiction. One finds there, more fully arrayed than in his essays or poetry, the web of relationships connecting persons, place, and community. The weaving of that web, on the page and in the world, is the subject of the dozen studies in this book, a worthy guide to the storytelling art of an essential author.” Scott Sanders, author of Earth Works: Selected Essays.