Seventy three days from today, Wendell Berry will be appearing at the Wisconsin Book Festival in Madison. Berry’s name catches people’s attention: he is well-loved as an outspoken farmer, prolific writer (he’s written 40+ books), and fierce advocate for the importance of connections between people and place.
It’s “a coup,” writes Jane Burns of 77 Square, an arts and culture Website for the Madison area, to get Mr. Berry to leave his Kentucky farm and speak to his adoring fans.
Sure enough, the Wisconsin Humanities Council has invited him every year since the inception of the Wisconsin Book Festival, in 2002. This year, it is really thanks to our friends at the Aldo Leopold Foundation, that Mr. Berry accepted the invitation and will be making the journey. He will be speaking on the theme of courage at a time when we all need a boost of inspiration to deal with varied challenges.
“The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and wasteful.”
I’m thrilled that local media are already helping to fan the flames of excitement about Berry’s visit. Being in the business of creating and supporting public humanities programs, I know it’s not always easy to get the attention that events like these deserve. Big names are the name of the game.
Will Allen, founding director of Milwaukee’s Growing Power, will also be presenting at a neighborhood-based event in Madison as part of the Wisconsin Book Festival’s outreach this fall. His is another “big name” these days thanks to his work in building an urban farm that serves the surrounding community and that is part of an international movement toward innovative, sustainable agriculture. And, Mr. Allen recently received a McArthur Genius Award.
Together, the star-power names in headlines might overshadow the fact that the Wisconsin Book Festival will have over 50 events, close to 100 authors. But, again, I don’t mind too much. At the Wisconsin Humanities Council, we are used to going under the radar sometimes. The more important thing is that our programs, and events, do what we believe is the most critical thing: use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life in Wisconsin.
For both Will Allen and Wendell Berry, these values are inherent in all that they do. I am counting down the days, eager to hear what each has to say.
By Jessica Becker
Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council