Acclaimed author Wendell Berry receives Helmerich Award
BY MIKE AVERILL World Staff Writer
Sunday, December 09, 2012
12/09/12 at 2:41 AM
For more than 50 years, author Wendell Berry has made the decline of rural America the primary focus of his works.
That decline, particularly the "eyes-to-acres ratio" was the focus of his presentation Saturday to a standing-room-only crowd at the Central Library.
The eyes-to-acres ratio refers to the amount of land needing care and the number of caretakers, and that over the years there has become an imbalance between the two.
"It is apparent that the economic landscapes of our country are now virtually deserted," he said. "In the vast acreages given over exclusively to the production of corn and soybeans, the number of working farmers is lower than it's ever been.
"You can drive for miles through such country and never see another human being at work. And the people you see at work, if you see any at work anywhere, almost certainly will be inside the cabs of tractors. Their contact with the soil beneath them having become almost entirely mechanical."
Berry was in town to receive the Tulsa Library Trust's 2012 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, given annually to internationally acclaimed authors who have written a distinguished body of work and made a major contribution to the field of literature and letters.
The 78-year-old Kentucky native, who farms 125 acres near Port Royal, Ky., with his wife, Tanya, has established himself as a principled presence in American letters, as well as an outspoken critic of industrialized farming.
Industrialized agriculture, he said, has resulted in the decline of a "farmer's or farm family's daily personal involvement in the diverse and complex life of a place that is at once a workplace and a home."
Without involvement, farmers cease to be country people and become city people living in the country, he said.
"We can suppose that the eyes-to-acres ratio is appropriately correct when a place is thriving in human use," Berry said. The decline of country work has also led to the decline of country pleasure, something Berry said is equally important.
A question-and-answer session followed the presentation.
When asked about his stance on global warming, Berry said the weather has been changing for a long time.
"My grandparents and their generation fairly routinely ice skated. You don't buy ice skates in Kentucky anymore," he said. "People who deny climate change are in effect denying that destruction, waste and pollution are wrong."
About the award
The Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award is an annual award given by the Tulsa Library Trust. Its purpose is to give formal recognition, on behalf of the Tulsa County community, to internationally acclaimed authors who have written a distinguished body of work and made a major contribution to the field of literature and letters.
Winners receive a $40,000 cash prize and an engraved crystal book.
Past award winners include Alan Furst (2011), Ian McEwan (2010), Geraldine Brooks (2009), Michael Chabon (2008), Thomas Keneally (2007), Mark Helprin (2006), John Grisham (2005), David McCullough (2004), Shelby Foote (2003), Joyce Carol Oates (2002), William Kennedy (2001), William Manchester (2000), Margaret Atwood (1999), E.L. Doctorow (1998), Dr. John Hope Franklin (1997), Neil Simon (1996), David McCullough (1995), Ray Bradbury (1994), Peter Matthiessen (1993), Norman Mailer (1992), Eudora Welty (1991), John le Carré (1990), Saul Bellow (1989), Toni Morrison (1988), John Updike (1987), Larry McMurtry (1986) and Norman Cousins (1985).
Original Print Headline: Wendell Berry honored by library
Mike Averill 918-581-8489
Author Wendell Berry, recipient of the Tulsa Library Trust's Peggy V. Helmerich 2012 Distinguished Author Award, reads a selection from one of his books at Tulsa's Central Library on Saturday. Berry is known for his writings on nature, agriculture and community. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World