Dr. Wes Berry
Associate Professor and Graduate Advisor
Office: Cherry Hall 110B
Introduction to College Writing; Introduction to Literature; American Studies: Land, Nature, Wilderness; Survey of American Literature II; Contemporary Literature; Kentucky Literature; Southern Literature; Studies in Genre: Environmental Literature and Ecocriticism; Seminar in American Writers: Regionalism vs. Cosmopolitanism in Modern American Literature
environmental literature / social justice / eco-literacy, Southern studies, regional foodways
Wes Berry, aka The Hungry Professor, prefers first-person self-reportage, thus--
I’m a Kentuckian teaching English to mostly Kentuckians. Before returning to my home region of southcentral KY in 2005, I got the PhD in American literature from the University of Mississippi, specializing in Southern writing and environmental humanities. I also got fiction writing mentoring from Darcey Steinke, Larry Brown, and Barry Hannah, whose novels and stories I now assign in the Southern Literature course I’m fortunate to teach regularly. Other courses include Kentucky Literature (a wonderful opportunity to read and share our rich literary-cultural heritage), Survey of American Literature 1865-present, and Introduction to Graduate Studies. I’m the Director of Graduate Studies for the English Department.
In addition to the mortgage-paying stuff of teaching and advising, I’ve a few hobbies that connect with my primary field of scholarly expertise--American literature with the foci in Southern culture/literature and environmental studies. For instance, Kentucky writer Wendell Berry is one of my heroes and a big influence in my life. I assign his sage essays and good honest poems in various courses, and at home I cultivate with my wife Elisa a little homestead where we grow a goodly portion of our food in an effort to eat well and cut down that long transportation needed to ship veggies from the central valley of California. We also want to eat animal protein from critters that have lived good lives, and our sheep, rabbits, chickens, goats, and pigs (when we had them) live under the sun on grass with room to move around and burrow and do what animals normally do when given the freedom to do it. The gardening, fencing, feeding and butchering keep us plenty busy.
We also cook a lot, and I spend many waking and slumbering hours thinking and dreaming about food—about cultivation, harvest, preserving and cooking. We’ve ventured into the art of fermentation with kraut, kimchee, and wine making; put up pickled okra, dilly beans, cukes, eggs, hot peppers, onions in malt vinegar, and fermented pepper pastes; dabbled in country ham making and charcuterie after raising and butchering pigs. Made haggis, with lamb sausages on the horizon.
So I study the literature of sustainability/ecology and then try to have a good measure of praxis. My favorite theoretical approaches to literature are those that connect well with the world--ecocriticism in its various forms, Marxist and feminist studies, and so forth. I assign a lot of environmental texts in my courses and attempt in a small way to practice “right livelihood,” as Wendell Berry puts it—a conscious daily living not terribly disconnected from the ideas presented in the books I study. But I also want to avoid dogma and the all-or-nothing mentality, which is why we choose raising and butchering animals to vegetarianism.
I’m not striving for environmental sainthood, and thank goodness because then I couldn’t have written The Kentucky Barbecue Book (2013), the first comprehensive exploration of Kentucky’s distinct barbecue traditions and regional variations. I’ve eaten at nearly 200 barbecue places in Kentucky, some of them multiple times, and you can’t perform such gluttony and achieve environmental sainthood. I’m mostly comfortable living with the contradictions. Cholesterol meds help as well.
Current and future projects include a series of interviews with Kentucky’s environmental writers and probably some novel scribbling. And I’d like to do more work in TV show production—like food/travel shows—as I was fortunate to do for a year recently.
Facebook: Wes Berry’s Kentucky Barbecue Adventures
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