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.