Kentucky’s Wendell Berry will deliver a speech today that’s regarded as the highest honor the federal government bestows in the humanities. The author and activist will give the 41st Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities in Washington, D.C. this evening.
In its four decade history, the Jefferson Lecture has included great literary figures and scholars, including poet Gwendolyn Brooks, playwright Arthur Miller, novelists Toni Morrison and John Updike and civil war historian Drew Gilpin Faust.
This year, it’s poet-farmer-environmentalist Wendell Berry’s turn.
National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach says besides being a wonderful poet and prose writer, Berry’s lifestyle makes him a modern-day Henry David Thoreau.
“What Wendell Berry has done is ennoble the concept of rural living and underscore a concern for living with the environment in such a way that we can have a sustainable earth,” Leach says.
Leach says even if people disagree with Berry’s activism—like opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining, lessons can still be learned from his worldview and approach to life.
“His views are not always appreciated by everyone,” he says. “His lifestyle, however, has to be one of the most respected one can conceive of. That is, very few people write and live what they write about.”
Berry will deliver his speech, called “It All Turns on Affection,” at 7:30 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets for the event were free, but were spoken for mere days after Berry’s speech was announced. The event will be webcast live here at 7:30 tonight.