October brings the final harvest of the year. One day soon I’ll pick the last of my garden’s tomatoes, peppers, kale, and chard. I’ll plant garlic, put up one last batch of crushed tomatoes, and bring pots of herbs inside for the winter. After last summer’s bummer crop (due to late blight), I’m especially grateful for this year’s bounty.
We’ll celebrate harvest season at Bound Together Book Club this Thursday, October 7 at 6:30, with a look at images of food in the Carnegie Art Museum’s permanent collection, followed by a discussion of Wendell Berry’s 2004 novel, Hannah Coulter.
Hannah Coulter is the seventh of Berry’s nine novels. All are set in Port William, Kentucky, a fictitious farm community modeled after Port Royal, Kentucky, where Berry has lived, farmed, and written since 1965. The novels depict what Berry calls the “Port William Membership,” a closely knit community of five generations of families. Lives here are primarily defined by agricultural work.
Twice widowed Hannah Coulter, who is in her late seventies, sorts through her memories. She reflects on farm life before and after the Second World War, a life committed to stewardship of the land, to daily labor, and the joys and sorrows contained in close kinship and friendship.
If you’ve read Berry’s essays or poetry, these themes will sound familiar. He ranges over the same ground in fiction, essays, and poems. His writings relate the way he believes the world’s separate elements are meant to connect, as parts of an integrated whole.
I would argue that the [national food and farming] conversation got under way in earnest in 1971, when Berry published an article in The Last Whole Earth Catalogue introducing Americans to the work of Sir Albert Howard, the British agronomist whose thinking had deeply influenced Berry’s own since he first came upon it in 1964. Indeed, much of Berry’s thinking about agriculture can be read as an extended elaboration of Howard’s master idea that farming should model itself on natural systems like forests and prairies, and that scientists, farmers and medical researchers need to reconceive “the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject.”
If Wendell Berry’s words, “eating is an agricultural act,” whet your intellectual appetite, join us Thursday for conversation about the art of food and harvest, and Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter.