Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry & Gary Snyder

Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry & Gary Snyder

by Wendell Berry
     
 

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In 1969 Gary Snyder returned from a long residence in Japan to the Sierra foothills, where he intended to build a house and settle with his wife and sons. He had just published his first book of essays, Earth House Hold. A few years before, Wendell Berry left New York City for farmland in Port Royal, Kentucky, where he built a small studio and lived with his

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Overview

In 1969 Gary Snyder returned from a long residence in Japan to the Sierra foothills, where he intended to build a house and settle with his wife and sons. He had just published his first book of essays, Earth House Hold. A few years before, Wendell Berry left New York City for farmland in Port Royal, Kentucky, where he built a small studio and lived with his wife. Berry had just published Long-Legged House. These two founding members of the counterculture had yet to meet, but they knew each other’s work and soon began a correspondence. Neither man could have imagined the impact their work would have on American political and literary culture, nor the impact they would have on one another.

They exchanged more than 240 letters from 1973 to 2013, bringing out the best in each other as they grappled with faith and reason, discussed home and family, worried over the disintegration of community and commonwealth, and shared the details of the lives they’d chosen with their wives and children. None can be unaffected by the complexity of their relationship, the subtlety of their arguments, and the grace of their friendship. This is a book for the ages.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Candid, introspective and often deeply philosophical, these letters offer intimate glimpses into the lives and minds of two influential contemporary writers." —Kirkus

"The letters are valuable for ecologists, students and teachers of contemporary American literature and for those of us eager to know how these two distant neighbors networked, negotiated and remained friends." —San Francisco Chronicle

"[...] distills the decades-long flourishing of a remarkable friendship and documents the careers of two important living American writers, natural philosophers, and conservationists." —Publishers Weekly Starred Review

"Distant Neighbors: the Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder…showcases these two great American poet-philosophers at most thoughtful and least guarded. Decades of correspondence drill down through the layers of their concerns – land use, economics, farming, wild nature, the life of the spirit, modernity itself – as they struggle to live within a culture tearing itself up by its roots." —Paul Kingsnorth's pick for one of New Stateman's Books of the Year

"Both poets and essayists have written extensively on ecology and our relationship with the natural environment. But their correspondence reveals as many points of difference - of opinion, of region, of background - as similarity, and lively and thoughtful dialogue on many topics, along with fellowship and a reverence for art and authenticity, is the result." -NPR

"Make no mistake: the melding and morphing of ideas that editor Chad Wriglesworth brings to the pages of Distant Neighbors will, for most readers, be the main appeal of the book. But these small, more literally grounded concerns, the tiny details of a day spent in Henry County, Kentucky, or in the foothills of the Sierras, are shining threads in the cloth of this long, good friendship. It’s news like Berry’s one spring — that he and his wife Tanya have “three rows in the garden and 35 lambs” — or Snyder’s enthusiastic recommendation of his sister’s book on the chicken farms of Petaluma, that keeps the two writers tethered to the warp and woof of their shared sense of place and time. Over and over in these pages the authors rise up to the big, mythical arenas of human existence, then float back down to the simple comforts of the mundane. Such is the feast that feeds them. And as a reader of these letters, it’s hard not to feel terribly fortunate to be seated at the table." —Gary Ferguson, author of The Carry Home, in Los Angeles Book Review

"In Distant Neighbors, both Berry and Snyder come across as honest and open-hearted explorers. There is an overall sense that they possess a deep and questing wisdom, hard earned through land work, travel, writing, and spiritual exploration. There is no rushing, no hectoring, and no grand gestures between these two, just an ever-deepening inquiry into what makes a good life and how to live it, even in the depths of the machine age." —Orion Magazine

Kirkus Reviews
2014-04-14
A collection of letters chronicling two writers' friendship and common interests in nature and faith.Wriglesworth (English/Univ. of Waterloo) has gathered nearly 240 letters between Snyder and Berry, written since 1973, when the two began corresponding, Snyder (Back on the Fire: Essays, 2007, etc.) writing from his home in Nevada City, Calif., and Berry from Port Royal, Ky. Recurring themes include environmentalism, reflections on spirituality and the authors' efforts to effect social change: "living at peace is a difficult, deceptive concept," Berry wrote to Snyder in 1978. "Same for resisting evil. You can struggle, embattle yourself, resist evil until you become evil….And I see with considerable sorrow that I am not going to get done fighting and live at peace in anything like the simple way I thought I would." Snyder saw the battle not against evil, but rather "ignorance, stupidity, narrow views [and] simple-minded egotism" and urged Berry not to fear "becoming tainted by ‘evil' because that's not really what you're up against." While Snyder practices Zen Buddhism, Berry calls himself a "forest Christian"; both are concerned with the "connection between enlightenment and householding." Although Berry admitted "joyful relief" in their convergence of ideas about ecology, at times they differed. For example, when Snyder wrote enthusiastically about biologists' work "to make cereals capable of fixing nitrogen like legumes do, saving 17 billion dollars a year in fertilizer worldwide," Berry responded with alarm about "the science of genetic manipulation." It may be good for farming, he conceded, but he worried that it would intensify agribusiness. The two writers have been attentive readers of each other's work, and those critiques and the writer's responses, are among the most interesting letters. Wriglesworth provides helpful information where needed, but annotations, relegated to endnotes, would be more useful as footnotes to each letter.Candid, introspective and often deeply philosophical, these letters offer intimate glimpses into the lives and minds of two influential contemporary writers.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781619023055
Publisher:
Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
06/03/2014
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Wendell Berry continues to live and work with his wife, Tanya Berry, on their hillside farm in Kentucky.

Gary Snyder still lives on his homestead in the Sierra foothills, and is a neighbor and community activist in the Yuba River Watershed.

Chad Wriglesworth is Assistant Professor of English at St. Jerome’s University in the University of Waterloo.

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