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Distant Neighbors

Selected Letters from Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder

List Price: $16.95

May 12, 2015 | Paperback | 6 x 9, 352 Pages | ISBN 9781619025462
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“[T]he letters are packed with gems…They're valuable for ecologists, students and teachers of contemporary American literature and for those of us eager to know how these two distant neighbors networked, negotiated and remained friends.” —San Francisco Chronicle

In 1969 Gary Snyder returned from a long residence in Japan to Northern California, to a homestead in the Sierra foothills where he intended to build a house and settle on the land with his wife and young sons. He had just published his first book of essays, Earth House Hold. A few years before, after a long absence, Wendell Berry left New York City to return to land near his grandfather’s farm in Port Royal, Kentucky, where he built a small studio and lived there with his wife as they restored an old house on their newly acquired homestead. In 1969 Berry had just published Long-Legged House. These two founding members of the counterculture and of the new environmental movement had yet to meet, but they knew each other’s work, and soon they began a correspondence. Neither man could have imagined the impact their work would have on American political and literary culture, nor could they have appreciated the impact they would have on one another.

Snyder had thrown over all vestiges of Christianity in favor of becoming a devoted Buddhist and Zen practitioner, and had lived in Japan for a prolonged period to develop this practice. Berry’s discomfort with the Christianity of his native land caused him to become something of a renegade Christian, troubled by the church and organized religion, but grounded in its vocabulary and its narrative. Religion and spirituality seemed like a natural topic for the two men to discuss, and discuss they did. They exchanged more than 240 letters from 1973 to 2013, remarkable letters of insight and argument. The two bring out the best in each other, as they grapple with issues of faith and reason, discuss ideas of home and family, worry over the disintegration of community and commonwealth.

No one can be unaffected by the complexity of their relationship, the subtlety of their arguments, and the grace of their friendship. This is a book for the ages.


“Candid, introspective and often deeply philosophical, these letters offer intimate glimpses into the lives and minds of two influential contemporary writers.” —Kirkus

“[…]distills the decades-long flourishing of a remarkable friendship and documents the careers of two important living American writers, natural philosophers, and conservationists.” —Publishers Weekly Starred Review

“[T]he letters are packed with gems…They’re valuable for ecologists, students and teachers of contemporary American literature and for those of us eager to know how these two distant neighbors networked, negotiated and remained friends.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“In Distant Neighbors, both Berry and Snyder come across as honest and open-hearted explorers. There is an overall sense that they possess a deep and questing wisdom, hard earned through land work, travel, writing, and spiritual exploration. There is no rushing, no hectoring, and no grand gestures between these two, just an ever-deepening inquiry into what makes a good life and how to live it, even in the depths of the machine age.” —Orion Magazine

“Over and over in these pages the authors rise up to the big, mythical arenas of human existence, then float back down to the simple comforts of the mundane. Such is the feast that feeds them. And as a reader of these letters, it’s hard not to feel terribly fortunate to be seated at the table.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

“The sense of generosity and gratitude that pervades these letters is another shared commitment, and it is a particularly important place where their religious sensibilities overlap. As poets and essayists…both writers have advocated a stance of gratitude toward the world, a way of seeing it as a gift.” —Commonweal

Distant Neighbors showcases these two great American poet-philosophers at most thoughtful and least guarded. Decades of correspondence drill down through the layers of their concerns—land use, economics, farming, wild nature, the life of the spirit, modernity itself—as they struggle to live within a culture tearing itself up by its roots.” —The New Statesman

“This selection of letters offers an unforgettable glimpse of the difficulties and fulfillment of such work, and of a most remarkable friendship.” —Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

“Berry and Snyder offer us a model of convivial masculinity, an exemplary relationship between two men who are grounded in their own practical lives and enjoy reaching out in friendship while being willing to disagree heartily.” —Resurgence & Ecologist

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