Stephanie Bernhard pens a novel
For UVA Jefferson Fellow, literature Ph.D. candidate and classics scholar Stephanie Bernhard, the path to her true calling began in a garden.
“I did a lot environmental writing when I was in college [at Brown],” Bernhard says, “and before starting my first job I took a summer to [work with] WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I had to do a lot of weeding, and it was a very, very rainy summer."
Born in the suburbs outside Boston, Bernhard didn’t get her hands dirty, so to speak, until WWOOF, and then “there was a break in my ability to engage in that kind of work,” she says. She moved to New York, where she worked in publishing and did an internship with radio station WNYC. “The one story I did myself was on WWOOF-ing,” she says.
When she moved to Charlottesville to pursue her Ph.D. in literature, Bernhard was thrilled to be able to live in a house with a big backyard.
Bernhard [now has written] a novel.... The novel... “takes up a lot of the same concerns as many of my political and essayistic work about agriculture and the relationship between humans and non-human organisms,” she says.
The story focuses on one growing season at a small organic “do-gooder” farm up in Maine, and its characters’ lives exemplify not only wonderful ideals but the hard realities of modern farming. “For those of us for whom plants are soul food, we go to farmers markets and get this really idyllic image of small, progressive organic farms. Obviously, it’s hard work, not just physically hard, but there are human difficulties that go into making a place like that—how it should look, who gets to run it.”