Port William (Wendell Berry)

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Port William, Kentucky is a fictional rural town found in each of the novels, short stories,[1] and some poems[2] by Wendell Berry. The larger region, set along the western bank of the Kentucky River, consists of Port William proper and several outlying farms and settlements around the also-fictional Dawe's Landing, Squire's Landing, Goforth, and Cotman Ridge. The town is set about "twelve miles or better"[3] south of the fictional town of Hargrave and the Ohio River.

It is generally acknowledged that Port William is a fiction inspired by Berry's own hometown of Port Royal, Kentucky—and that Hargrave is the fictional form of Carrollton, Kentucky, a larger town located at the confluence of the Kentucky and Ohio rivers.[4] Carrollton itself was originally known as Port William.[5]

The Port William Stories[edit]

Each of Berry's fictional works is set in and around Port William. There are to date eight novels, fifty-one short stories, and fifteen poems that touch on the people and life of the place.

The chronology of the tales stretches from the United States Civil War to 2008. Within these stories a reader encounters both momentous and ordinary events in the lives of the Beechum, Feltner, Coulter, and Catlett families, individuals of which, along with others, make up the Port William membership.

In his essay "Imagination in Place," Berry comments on his intentions for Port William: "I have made the imagined place of Port William, its neighborhood and membership, in an attempt to honor the actual place where I have lived. By means of the imagined place, over the last fifty years, I have learned to see my native landscape and neighborhood as a place unique in the world, a work of God, possessed of an inherent sanctity that mocks any human valuation that can be put upon it."[6]

The Port William Membership[edit]

"The Membership" is the term by which Berry and his characters convey the bonds of a community within its given geographical location. The "membership" consists of any person who recognizes his or her place among—and responsibility for the well-being of—the land, animals, and people of the place.

In "The Wild Birds," the character Burley Coulter explains what he means by 'membership,'

"The way we are, we are members of each other. All of us. Everything. The difference ain't in who is a member and who is not, but in who knows it and who don't."[7]

This concept is drawn from St. Paul's understanding, "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ." (1 Corinthians 12.12) Concerning Burley's "Everything," Berry has said that it may be that "Burley improved on St. Paul … by telling a more comprehensive truth."[8]

Far from an exclusive circle, membership in Port William comes to mean exactly the opposite: the grateful inclusion of any who live in devotion to the wellbeing of the town and its environs. The membership isn’t self-appointed. But it is self-identifying. Those who are devoted to the place recognize one another by their mutual inclinations and sacrificial practices.[9]


  • Andy Catlett: Early Travels. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006.
  • That Distant Land: The Collected Stories. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004.
    (Alongside five new stories, "this volume combines the stories found in The Wild Birds (1985), Fidelity (1992), and Watch with Me (1994), together with a map and a charting of the complex and interlocking genealogies.")
[The Hurt Man, Don't Send a Boy to Do a Man's Work, A Consent, Pray Without Ceasing, Watch With Me, A Half-Pint of Old Darling, The Lost Bet, Thicker than Liquor, Nearly to the Fair, The Solemn Boy, A Jonquil for Mary Penn, Turn Back the Bed, Making It Home, Where Did They Go?, The Discovery of Kentucky, It Wasn't Me, The Boundary, That Distant Land, A Friend of Mine, The Wild Birds, Are You Alright?, Fidelity, The Inheritors]
  • Fidelity. New York: Pantheon, 1992.
[Pray without Ceasing, A Jonquil for Mary Penn, Making It Home, Fidelity, Are You All Right?]
  • Hannah Coulter. Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard. 2004.
  • Jayber Crow. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000.
  • The Memory of Old Jack. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich 1974. (revised Counterpoint 2001).
  • Nathan Coulter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960 (revised North Point, 1985).
  • A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2012.
[The Girl in the Window; Fly Away, Breath; Down in the Valley Where the Green Grass Grows; Burley Coulter's Fortunate Fall; A Burden; A Desirable Woman; Misery; Andy Catlett: Early Education; Drouth; Stand By Me; Not a Tear; The Dark Country; A New Day; Mike; Who Dreamt This Dream?; The Requirement; An Empty Jacket; At Home; Sold; A Place in Time]
  • A Place on Earth. Boston: Harcourt, Brace, 1967 (revised North Point,1983; Counterpoint, 2001).
  • Remembering. San Francisco: North Point, 1988.
  • Watch With Me and Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née Quinch. New York: Pantheon, 1994.
[A Consent, A Half-Pint of Old Darling, The Lost Bet, Nearly to the Fair, The Solemn Boy, Turn Back the Bed, Watch with Me]
  • Wendell Berry: Port William Novels & Stories, The Civil War to World War II. Ed. Jack Shoemaker. New York: Library of America, 2018.
  • Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World. Berkeley: Counterpoint. 2009.
  • The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership. San Francisco: North Point, 1986.
[Thicker Than Liquor, Where Did They Go?, It Wasn't Me, The Boundary, That Distant Land, The Wild Birds]
  • A World Lost. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1996.


  1. ^ "Port William: The Stories". Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  2. ^ http://brtom.typepad.com/wberry/port-william-the-poetry.html
  3. ^ Wendell Berry. Jayber Crow, Washington, D.C., Counterpoint, 2000. p. 240
  4. ^ http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/arts/al0051.html
  5. ^ Carrollton, Kentucky
  6. ^ Wendell Berry. The Way of Ignorance, Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005, 50-51 and Imagination in Place, Counterpoint, 2010, 15
  7. ^ Wendell Berry. That Distant Land: The Collected Stories. Washington, D. C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004. 356
  8. ^ Morris Allen Grubbs, Conversations with Wendell Berry. U P of Mississippi, 2007. 206
  9. ^ "Reign of Love | Commonweal Magazine". www.commonwealmagazine.org. Retrieved 2019-02-07.