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Tobacco Harvest: An Elegy

by James Baker Hall

Availablecloth$35.00s 978-0-8131-2327-1
88 pages  Pubdate: 09/24/2004  11 x 8.5  photos

"In 1973, James Baker Hall photographed these scenes and events of a Kentucky tobacco harvest. We look at them now with a sort of wonder, and with some regret, realizing that while our work was going on, powerful forces were at play that would change the scene and make “history” of those lived days, which were enriched for us then by their resemblance to earlier days and to days that presumably were to follow."—Wendell Berry, from the book

An insightful meditation on the shifting nature of humans’ relationships with the land and with each other, Berry’s essay laments the economic, political, and societal changes that have forever altered Kentucky’s rich agricultural traditions. Berry also adds a deeply personal perspective to Hall’s eloquent visual testimony.

With a farm of his own nearby, Berry was a longtime friend and neighbor of the families shown in Hall’s pictures and took part in their work swapping. In addition to detailing the repetitive, strenuous labor involved in harvesting a tobacco crop, he relates memories of stories told, laughs shared, meals savored, and brief moments of rest and refreshment well earned.

Hall’s striking photographs illuminate the characters and events that Berry describes. During the 1973 harvest, he photographed the rows stretching toward the horizon while laborers cut a tobacco crop, one plant at a time, until the last row was cut, hauled, and housed in the barn. These photographs powerfully convey the physical experiences of a Kentucky tobacco harvest: the heat of the sun, the dirt, and the people hard at work.

James Baker Hall, former Kentucky Poet Laureate, is the author of many books, including The Total Light Process and Yates Paul, His Grand Fights, His Tootings.

Wendell Berry is a poet, a novelist, a farmer, a conservationist, and a former professor of English. His books include The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, Jayber Crow, Two More Stories of the Port William Membership, Life is a Miracle: An Essay against Modern Superstition, and Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work.

The amazing talents of Hall and Berry combine to address a subject that is important to them, and through their efforts, important to many others. -- Chevy Chaser

It is so pertinent to a traditional state icon that Virginians will want to take a look at it. -- Richmond Times-Dispatch

Does not fail to capture the storytelling and socializing the workers enjoyed as they labored over their tobacco crop. -- Agricultural History

A beautiful tribute to a way of life which has all but disappeared. -- Appalachian Heritage

Hall's photographs work well to say what words can merely describe: tobacco farming was hard work; it was work that allowed people to survive. -- Coffee Talk Quarterly

These photographs powerfully convey the physical experiences of a Kentucky tobacco harvest: the heat of the sun, the dirt, and the people hard at work. Berry's accompanying essay adds a deeply personal perspective to Hall's eloquent visual testimony. -- Kentucky Alumni

An elegy often is sad or mournful, but the pictures and words in Tobacco Harvest also are uplifting. -- Lexington Herald-Leader

Documents the beginning of the end for tobacco farmers in our country. . . . The scenes of workers cutting and putting up tobacco leaves are timeless, and in many parts of our country, the work continues unabated. But as Berry's essay makes clear, such a life is on its way out. -- Watauga Mountain Times

Environmentalists, rural sociologists, and cultural researchers should examine this book and take it to heart. This work provokes reflection on the creation of social and cultural meaning and continuity. -- John B. Wolford -- Journal of American Folklore