Poet David Chapman Berry Jr. was born on 23 July 1942 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the only son of David C. Berry and Annette Hays Berry. The family, which also included daughter Betty, born in 1946, moved to Greenville, where his father ran several service stations. Berry graduated from Greenville High School in 1960 and moved on to study science and English at Delta State University in Cleveland. While commuting to Delta State, Berry worked in the emergency room at Greenville’s General Hospital.
After graduating from Delta State in 1965 and turning down medical school, Berry and his wife, Terri Stoutenborough, whom he had met and married that summer, moved to Flint, Michigan, where he was a member of the management staff at General Motors. In the summer of 1966, Berry was drafted by the US Army and served for three years in the Medical Corps, attaining the rank of captain. Berry spent much of that time in Vietnam, where he wrote the poems for his first collection, Saigon Cemetery (1972).
Berry subsequently returned to school and in 1973 received a doctorate in English from the University of Tennessee, writing a dissertation on the poetry of James Dickey. After his divorce from Stoutenborough, Berry and his second wife, Anne, had one child, David Berry III. That union also ended, and in 1985 Berry married Sarah Adele Rawls from Columbia, Mississippi; their son, Hays, was born the following year.
An Episcopalian, Berry began writing poetry in the ninth grade out of boredom while in church, motivated by his early interest in “the sound of language as an art form.” Boredom and mental conflicts, he stated in an interview, led him to write poetry while in Vietnam. Though Berry says he was in no danger in Vietnam, George Garrett, in his foreword to Saigon Cemetery, praises Berry’s consistency in “telling the truth” about the war. Divorce Boxing (1998) contains satiric poems that reflect Berry’s two failed marriages as well as writings that examine the death of his father and his mother’s cancer.
Berry has described the purpose of his poetry as to “celebrate, to realize, to discover” the things around him, especially in his native Mississippi: “I want to use common things and common sounds to discover the uncommon insight.” Widely published in little magazines, literary journals, and anthologies of Mississippi writers, Berry is often asked for his advice to students who want to learn to write poetry: “Read, write, and erase.”
Berry taught at the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg for twenty-seven years. He has served as editor of the Mississippi Review and has received numerous teaching and writing awards and grants, including recognition from the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, the Florida Review, and the Southern Federation of State Arts Agencies. Now a resident of Oxford, he created the Elvis Meets Einstein Award Fund in 2012 to provide income each year for two students in the master of fine arts program in the English department at the University of Mississippi.
- Dorothy Abbott, ed., Mississippi Writers: Reflections of Childhood and Youth (1988)
- D. C. Berry, Divorce Boxing (1998); D. C. Berry, Hamlet Off Stage (2009)
- D. C. Berry, Jawbone (1978); D. C. Berry, Saigon Cemetery (1972)
- Hal May and James G. Lesniek, eds., Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series, vol. 27 (1989)
- Noel Polk and James R. Scafidel, eds., An Anthology of Mississippi Writers (1979)
- Colleen Marie Ryor, Adirondack Review (Summer 2003)