Provocatively Pointing the Way

In October 1981 I attended the First Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, the propitious beginning of a tradition that has lasted for thirty years. Although I was already heading in the right direction, hearing Wendell Berry, Hazel Henderson, and Wes Jackson speak that day opened my mind to a larger, more promising view of the world as it could and should be.

I mention additional names to illustrate the lecturers’ wide range of background and subject matter: Thomas Berry, David Brower, Richard Heinberg, Jane Jacobs, Andrew Kimbrell, Frances Moore-Lappé, Amory Lovins, Jerry Mander, Bill McKibben, John Todd, and Judy Wicks. Winona LaDuke, Chief Oren Lyons, and John Mohawk conveyed the wisdom of indigenous tradition; Majora Carter, Cathrine Sneed, and Greg Watson presented solutions to pressing urban problems; Stephanie Mills and Kirkpatrick Sale represented the bioregional movement.

Our speakers challenge entrenched ways of thinking. They are sometimes profound, sometimes practical, sometimes funny, always provocative, and invariably they point the way to the future we are working toward.

From the beginning we have transformed the lectures into pamphlet form in order to give them a permanent format in which to reach a wider audience. In 1991 I began editing them, and in 1997 Yale University Press published the collected Schumacher lectures as “People, Land, and Community,” the title of Wendell Berry’s 1981 lecture. Work on the book also involved editing those lectures preceding 1991.

There is such a difference between the spoken and the written word. The lectures flow easily for the ear, but the pamphlets must stand up to the scrutiny of the eye. To a certain extent I provide a somewhat more formal version of the spoken word for the printed page while retaining, I hope, the individual flavor of the delivery. The amount of editing I do varies, depending on whether the lecture was written out in advance and whether the speaker is a professional writer.

It has been an enriching and rewarding experience to become immersed in the lectures through the editing process, a skill I had gained without knowing it from my years as a translator. The first step in the process is to transcribe the lecture from the tape. After that I edit a first draft, go over it a second time, and then send it, together with comments and questions, to the speaker for approval. The response may be blanket approval, or some changes/suggestions may be rejected. Sometimes the speaker makes additions and further changes. Finally, a layout is prepared, which I proofread, and then off it goes to the printer to create the pamphlets that are ordered by our members, then shared with others as an introduction to the work of the organization and the ideas of our speakers.

The text of the lectures is also available in full on our website, where they can be read for free.  Through the web postings this splendid compendium of lectures finds its way into curricula for college courses, acquainting a new generation with a cultural revolution in the making. Please enjoy reading them as I have enjoyed the editing.