A keenly anticipated reading by Wendell Berry, farmer, naturalist, environmental activist, and award-winning writer, at Seattle Arts & Lectures (May 24) will be preceded and followed by classes in this year’s "SAL U" course, Following Wendell: The Culture and Politics of Sustenance. The kickoff lecture is tomorrow evening (April 21).
Berry’s reading, part of SAL’s American Voices series, may be your last chance to attend an appearance in Seattle by this author, now in his early 80s. “This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some,” said Rebecca Hoog, SAL director of education programs. “It’s the only trip he agreed to take this year outside his home state. He loves the Northwest.”
Berry, who has farmed the same plot of land in rural Kentucky for more than 40 years, has written almost 50 books of essays, fiction, and poetry focused on the need for human beings to live in harmony with the natural environment — to “make our lives fit our places,” as he says in “A Poem on Hope.” His work reveals what is beautiful and remarkable in the ordinary: the seasons, the land, routines on a small farm, and family relationships, all rendered with affection and humor.
Yet there’s nothing soft or sentimental about Berry’s writing. His critical intelligence and passion give his work a keen edge, especially when advocating for improved USDA policies, an end to careless environmental exploitation, and the protection of the ethical ties that bind communities together. “He’s the über Michael Pollan,” said Hoog. “Long before Pollan there was Wendell Berry.”
At the May 24 event, co-presented by SAL and North Cascades Institute, Berry will read from his poetry and then answer questions about his entire body of work. If you want to do a little preparatory reading, examples are linked to from the SAL website, including some moving YouTube footage of Berry at the podium.
The "SAL U" Spring 2011 “Following Wendell” series in honor of Berry’s visit will build a context around his writing. Lectures are being presented in partnership with the Henry Art Gallery and the UW’s Program on the Environment (POE), which hosted the Food: Eating Your Environment series held at the UW last fall.
SAL U, formerly called Wednesday University, once focused on arts and humanities but has been broadened to include social science and science courses, Hoog said. From the success of the UW food lectures, “we now know there’s a huge audience out there wanting to build on the excitement of that series and their interests.”
Five SAL U lecturers will address a wide range of topics including the food industry, obesity, and urban farming. The series will culminate in a Saturday afternoon tour of the University of Washington farm, established as a model for bringing human food choices into better harmony with the natural environment. The visit will conclude with prosecco and pizza from the farm’s wood-fired oven.
- Thursday (April 21), 7 p.m.: Branden Born, professor of urban design and planning at the UW. He teaches courses on food systems, land use, and planning methods, and was faculty leader for a UW studio course supported by the Luce Foundation, aimed at defining and enhancing the functionality of the Seattle food system for the City of Seattle.
- May 5, 7 p.m.: Kurt Timmermeister, founder of Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island. The Seattle native ran a series of ever-larger Seattle bistros under the name of Café Septieme while also studying small-scale farming. Now, surrounded by cows, sheep, pigs, and poultry at his farm on Vashon, Timmermeister produces traditional Camembert-style and Italian hard cheeses. He is the author of Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land, a memoir and guide to creating and running a small farm.
- May 19, 7 p.m.: David R. Montgomery, a MacArthur Fellow, professor of earth and space sciences at the UW, and the author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. His research ranges from the co-evolution of the Pacific salmon and the topography of the Pacific Northwest to the environmental history of Puget Sound rivers, interactions among climate, tectonics, and erosion in shaping mountain ranges, and giant glacial floods in eastern Tibet.
- June 2, 7 p.m.: Josh Tewksbury, director of the graduate program in the Conservation of Living Systems at the UW college of the environment. A biologist, Tewksbury is interested in how environments sustain a diversity of individuals, populations and communities. He serves on several boards devoted to increasing and preserving strong connections between people and the natural world.
- June 16, 7 pm: Elizabeth Wheat, an environmental teaching fellow and director of the UW Farm, where students get hands-on experience in how biogeochemical cycles, pest management, and sustainable agriculture sustainably intertwine. Her doctoral research is on oyster farms in Willapa Bay and the ecology of migratory shrimp in Costa Rica.
- June 18, 4 p.m.: UW Farm tour led by Elizabeth Wheat, culminating in a Pizza and Prosecco Party featuring pizza baked in the farm’s wood-fired oven.
If you go: Wendell Berry reading plus Q&A, 7:30 p.m. May 24, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St. Tickets $30-$70 (group discounts available). “Following Wendell” SAL U classes, Thursdays April 21, May 5, May 19, June 2, and June 16 at 7 p.m., Henry Art Gallery, and 4 p.m. Saturday, June 18, UW Farm. Tickets $100. Single tickets at the door on a space-available basis for “Following Wendell” classes excluding the June 18 UW Farm tour. Further information at SAL: (206) 621-2230.