Berry is the first of four children born to John Marshall Berry, a lawyer and tobacco farmer in Henry County, and Virginia Erdman Berry. The families of both of his parents have farmed in Henry County for at least five generations. Berry attended secondary school at Millersburg Military Institute, then earned a B.A. and M.A. in English at the University of Kentucky, where in 1956 he met another Kentucky writer-to-be, Gurney Norman.
Berry's first novel, Nathan Coulter, was published in April 1960. A Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship took Berry and his family to Italy and France in 1961, where he came to know Wallace Fowlie, critic and translator of French literature.
In 1965, Berry moved to a farm he had purchased, Lane's Landing (Central Kentucky), and began growing corn and small grains on what eventually became a 125-acre (0.51 km2) homestead. Berry has farmed, resided, and written at Lane's Landing down to the present day. He has written about his early experiences on the land and about his decision to return to it in essays such as "The Long-Legged House" and "A Native Hill."
In the 1970s and early 1980s, he edited and wrote for the Rodale Press, including its publications Organic Gardening and Farming and The New Farm. From 1987 to 1993, he returned to the English Department of the University of Kentucky. Berry has written at least twenty-five books (or chapbooks) of poems, sixteen volumes of essays, and eleven novels and short story collections. His writing is grounded in the notion that one's work ought to be rooted in and responsive to one's place.
Wendell Berry is as much an accomplished essayist as he is a poet, fictional, and non-fictional author.
Berry has an extensive list of books and collections; The most recent include, Leavings, The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford, and The Cost of Displacement.