Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache from the American South


Product Details

$26.00  $24.18
Milkweed Editions
Publish Date
5.9 X 8.6 X 1.1 inches | 1.15 pounds

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About the Author

Margaret Renkl is the author of Graceland, At Last and Late Migrations, which was a Read with Jenna/TODAY Show book club selection. She is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, where her essays appear weekly. Her work has also appeared in Guernica, Literary Hub, Proximity, and River Teeth, among others. She was the founding editor of Chapter 16, the daily literary publication of Humanities Tennessee, and is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Carolina. She lives in Nashville.


From her home in Nashville--'a blue dot in the red sea of Tennessee'--[Renkl] writes perceptively of the region where she was born and raised (in Alabama), educated (in South Carolina), and settled . . . Renkl vividly evokes the lush natural beauty of the rivers, old-growth forests, 'red-dirt pineywoods, ' marshes, and coastal plains that she deeply loves . . . A wide-ranging look at the realities of the South. --Kirkus Reviews

"If you've happened upon the poignant and off-road opinion pieces Renkl writes as a contributor to The New York Times, you already know that the natural world is something she closely observes and uses as a springboard to contemplate other, less tangible subjects. . . . Her life story and her life's passion intertwine, like a fence post and a trumpet vine."--Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

Graceland, At Last takes us to Renkl's homeland and shines a light on her life in the South, its complexities and its hopes. In these pages, you will find Black Lives Matter organizers, churches sheltering the homeless, and even helpful sheep. Reading Margaret Renkl is like seeing the world in color for the first time. --Literary Hub, Most Anticipated Books of 2021

New York Times columnist Renkl effectively lifts the lid on the Southern culture and challenges its stereotypes in this versatile compendium. Renkl's essays cover the natural world, local politics, Southern-fried art and culture, and social justice issues from a Nashvillian perspective. Her nature writing shows an impressive predilection for botany and ornithology . . . [Graceland, At Last] serves as a well-written collection for anyone interested in everyday life below the Mason-Dixon Line. --Publishers Weekly

"Like nothing else in the newspaper, [Renkl's columns] burst with awareness of the things of nature, awareness that our lives are led in that midst, permeated with and part of the natural world. All is written with an open, joyful, yet steady voice of wonder."--Philadelphia Inquirer

"In 1956, author E.B. White suggested that newspapers cover nature as eagerly as commerce, having columns devoted not only to the flow of business but also the arrival of birds. Renkl . . . seems like a belated answer to White . . . [crafting] graceful sentences that White would surely have enjoyed. A collection of her Times columns would be a welcome thing."--Wall Street Journal

"Renkl is a frequent op-ed writer for The New York Times, where she captures the spirit and contemporary culture of the American South better than anyone."--BookPage

Margaret Renkl's essays alternate between balm for the soul and outrage at the world with all of its injustices. She makes me think and see things in a different light and for that I'm eternally grateful. --Indie Next List (September 2021), selected by Jayne Gowsam, Mystery to Me

Margaret Renkl is one of my absolute favorite writers working today. Like Late Migrations before it, Graceland, At Last is a gift--full of sorrow, joy, grief, and yes--hope. I implore you to read her work. --Alex Brubaker, Midtown Scholar Bookstore

Margaret Renkl is my favorite essayist. Every week I look for her column in the opinion pages of the New York Times. In a time when the country has such deep divisions, I can rely on her writing to be all heart, no snark. I'm so proud to have this fellow Nashvillian's newest collection on my shelf. --Karen Hayes, Parnassus Books

It's one thing to be a good reporter. Another to be a good writer. And finally, and more rare, a good storyteller. Margaret Renkl is among our best at all three. To see her full powers on display in this collection is truly a gift. We are in a golden age of nonfiction, I feel, and Renkl is one of the brightest reasons why. I love this book. --Chris La Tray, Fact & Fiction

Margaret Renkl wrote a favorite book of mine, Late Migrations, which was published in 2019. In this collection of essays, she expands upon what being a Southerner means to her, and not surprisingly I loved it. She writes about nature, her Christian faith, politics, systemic racism, musicians, and a variety of cultural influencers that are a rich variety of her reflections being raised in Alabama and as an adult living in Nashville. Through it all she searches with compassion and empathy for common ground so that all people can aspire to and live a better life. --Todd Miller, Arcadia Books

The only thing better than a Margaret Renkl column appearing in my paper in the morning, is a book of columns that appears all at once! Margaret's grace of language, heart-filled societal goals and appreciation for the natural world fill this collection and give readers ideas, poignant facts to think about, and hope. --Kira Wizner, Merritt Bookstore

With the same profound observation and sensitivity as in her first book, Margaret Renkl's collection of newspaper columns in Graceland, At Last explores even more aspects of the current American South, going beyond stereotypes and caricatures to reveal the real people, plants, and animals that live there, and how they band together during the dark times of the last few years. From social justice to family recipes, these short columns illuminate all manner of hidden things that often go overlooked. --Ellie Ray, Content Book Store

It's a punch in the gut and a balm for the soul. Graceland, At Last is Margaret Renkl's collection of essays from the New York Times, and she has assembled a wide range of columns considering everything from birds to country music to social justice. Renkl is a writer who throws her whole self into her observations . . . Her observations on the American experience are hard to take sometimes. She pulls no punches about American failures in race relations, care of the environment, and political life. Yet, she is also a writer full of the wonder about the world, seeing and helping us to see the hope and possibility in humanity. --Sarah Young, Raven Book Store

Since 2017, Mondays have been redeemed by the appearance of a new column by Margaret Renkl in the Opinion section of the New York Times. By turns humorous, angry, hopeful, or meditative--and always graceful, thought-provoking, and deftly observed--these views of life from Nashville show us our world in ways we may not have thought of it before. Now Renkl has gathered 59 of these bite-sized pieces into a substantial collection. Organized 'as a kind of patchwork quilt'--in homage to her foremothers--Graceland, At Last challenges the notion of a homogenous New South even as it gives a balanced view of the region through its distinctive natural landscape, political and cultural history, and the specifics of Renkl's own life and family. What emerges is a wide-ranging portrait of a place as rich in beauty and tradition as it is blighted by racism and bias. Renkl decries the worst of the South's Red State tendencies while celebrating its effort to face and transcend them with new institutions such as the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. She laments the thoughtless cutting down of trees but finds hope in the sight of purple martins--a bird whose survival depends on human-supplied birdhouses. Other gems include the reminder that a rattlesnake is a gentle, not malign creature, and her donning of five inherited wedding bands as an amulet against her fears--one that works like a charm. --Laurie Greer, Politics & Prose

Late Migrations is a staff favorite at our store. Not only do we hand sell it to customers, we have been giving copies as gifts far and wide. The author's writing is spare, beautiful, thoughtful and wise, and she captures a Southern life in a way no one else does. For those who relish Renkl's writing in the New York Times, Graceland provides a wonderful opportunity to reread favorite essays, as well as share her writing with others. --Lia Lent, Wordsworth Books

Margaret Renkl's weekly New York Times columns about culture in the South call out our many failures while describing in beautiful details what makes our part of America so beautiful. Just when I think there's no possible way to capture the tension between the terrible and the special, Renkl's words are there to express what I am feeling. --Sissy Gardner, Parnassus Books

Margaret Renkl is terrific. I loved dipping in and out of these essays. --Sheryl Cotleur, Copperfield's Books

Praise for Late Migrations

A TODAY Show #ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick
Winner of 2020 Phillip D. Reed Environmental Writing Award
Finalist for the Southern Book Prize
Named a "Best Book of the Year" by New Statesman, New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library, Foreword Reviews, and Washington Independent Review of Books
An Indie Next Selection, Indies Introduce Selection, and Okra Pick

"Beautifully written, masterfully structured, and brimming with insight into the natural world, Late Migrations can claim its place alongside Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and A Death in the Family. It has the makings of an American classic."--Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House

"[Renkl] is the most beautiful writer! I love this book. It's about the South, and growing up there, and about her love of nature and animals and her wonderful family."--Reese Witherspoon

"Reflective and gorgeous . . . I have recommended this book to everybody that I know. It is a beautiful book about love, and [how] . . . to find the beauty in the little things."--Jenna Bush Hager, the TODAY Show

"A vivid and original essay collection . . . This is the kind of writing that makes me just want to stay put, reread and savor everything about that moment."--Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

"Equal parts Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott with a healthy sprinkle of Tennessee dry rub thrown in."--New York Times Book Review

"A compact glory, crosscutting between consummate family memoir and keenly observed backyard natural history. Renkl's deft juxtapositions close up the gap between humans and nonhumans and revive our lost kinship with other living things."--Richard Powers, author of The Overstory

"Magnificent . . . Conjure your favorite place in the natural world: beach, mountain, lake, forest, porch, windowsill rooftop? Precisely there is the best place in which to savor this book."

"Late Migrations has echoes of Annie Dillard's The Writing Life--with grandparents, sons, dogs and birds sharing the spotlight, it's a witty, warm and unaccountably soothing all-American story."--People

"[Renkl] guides us through a South lush with bluebirds, pecan orchards, and glasses of whiskey shared at dusk in this collection of prose in poetry-size bits; as it celebrates bounty, it also mourns the profound losses we face every day."--O, the Oprah Magazine

"A lovely collection of essays about life, nature, and family. It will make you laugh, cry--and breathe more deeply."--Parade

"This warm, rich memoir might be the sleeper of the summer. [Renkl] grew up in the South, nursed her aging parents, and never once lost her love for life, light, and the natural world. Beautiful is the word, beautiful all the way through."--Philadelphia Inquirer

"Like the spirituality of Krista Tippett's On Being meets the brevity of Joe Brainard . . . The miniature essays in Late Migrations approach with modesty, deliver bittersweet epiphanies, and feel like small doses of religion."--Literary Hub

"In her poignant debut, a memoir, Renkl weaves together observations from her current home in Nashville and short vignettes of nature and growing up in the South."--Garden & Gun

"A book that will be treasured."--Minneapolis Star Tribune

"One of the best books I've read in a long time . . . [and] one of the most beautiful essay collections that I have ever read. It will give you chills."--Silas House, author of Southernmost

"Renkl holds my attention with essays about plants and caterpillars in a way no other nature writer can."--Mary Laura Philpott, author of I Miss You When I Blink

"This is the story of grief accelerated by beauty and beauty made richer by grief. . . . Like Patti Smith in Woolgathering, Renkl aligns natural history with personal history so completely that the one becomes the other. Like Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Renkl makes, of a ring of suburbia, an alchemical exotica."--The Rumpus

"Renkl feels the lives and struggles of each creature that enters her yard as keenly as she feels the paths followed by her mother, grandmother, her people. Learning to accept the sometimes harsh, always lush natural world may crack open a window to acceptance of our own losses. In Late Migrations, we welcome new life, mourn its passing, and honor it along the way."--Indie Next List (July 2019), selected by Kat Baird, The Book Bin

"[A] stunning collection of essays merging the natural landscapes of Alabama and Tennessee with generations of family history, grief and renewal. Renkl's voice sounds very close to the reader's ear: intimate, confiding, candid and alert."--Shelf Awareness

"Late Migrations is a gift, and fortunate readers will steal away to a beloved nook or oasis to commune with its riches. Or they will simply dig into it, unprepared, like the mother with no gardening tools who determinedly pulls weeds until the ground blossoms. They might entrust it to fellow seekers they believe can handle its power. Consecrated, they'll leave initiated into an art of observation lived beautifully in richness, connection, worry, and love."--The Christian Century

"How can any brief description capture this entirely original and deeply satisfying book? . . . I can't help but compile a list of people I want to gift with Late Migrations. I want them to emerge from it, as I did, ready to apprehend the world freshly, better able to perceive its connections and absorb its lessons."--Beth Ann Fennelly, Chapter 16

"[A] magnificent debut . . . Renkl instructs that even amid life's most devastating moments, there are reasons for hope and celebration. Readers will savor each page and the many gems of wisdom they contain."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Contemplative yet powerful . . . Renkl is so in touch with the birds and butterflies of her yard that one could mistake her for a trained naturalist."--Book Page (starred review)

"Compelling, rich, satisfying . . . The short, potent essays of Late Migrations are objects as worthy of marvel and study as the birds and other creatures they observe."--Foreword Reviews (starred review)

"Renkl captures the spirit and contemporary culture of the American South better than anyone."--Book Page, A 2019 Most Anticipated Nonfiction Book

"[Late Migrations] is shot through with deep wonder and a profound sense of loss. It is a fine feat, this book. Renkl intimately knows that 'this life thrives on death' and chooses to sing the glory of being alive all the same."--Booklist

"A series of redolent snapshots and memories that seem to halt time. . . . [Renkl's] narrative metaphor becomes the miraculous order of nature . . . in all its glory and cruelty; she vividly captures 'the splendor of decay.'"--Kirkus

"A captivating, beautifully written story of growing up, love, loss, living, and a close extended family by a talented nature writer and memoirist that will appeal to those who enjoy introspective memoirs and the natural world close to home."--Library Journal

"A beautifully written collection of essays about nature and the author's childhood." (Best Book of 2019)

"Compact, delicate like a work of poetry, and often gorgeous in detail, this is a refreshing read for readers interested in family as well as nature."--Chicago Public Library

"Late Migrations is such a beautiful book, you'll want to gift it to someone you love. Meditative and poetic, without being stuffy, Renkl gets at the meanings in life."--Campus Circle

"A close and vigilant witness to loss and gain, Renkl wrenches meaning from the intimate moments that define us. Her work is a chronicle of being. And a challenge to cynicism. Late Migrations is flat-out brilliant and it has arrived right on time."--John T. Edge, author of The Potlikker Papers

"Gracefully written and closely observed, Renkl's lovely essays are tinged with the longing for family and places now gone while rejoicing in the flutter of birds and life still alive."--Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams

"Here is an extraordinary mind combined with a poet's soul to register our own old world in a way we have not quite seen before. Late Migrations is the psychological and spiritual portrait of an entire family and place presented in quick takes--snapshots--a soul's true memoir. The dire dreams and fears of childhood, the mother's mysterious tears, the imperfect beloved family . . . all are part of a charged and vibrant natural world also filled with rivalry, conflict, the occasional resolution, loss, and delight. Late Migrations is a continual revelation."--Lee Smith, author of The Last Girls

"What a treasure. I was captivated by the astonishing vignettes she created in just a few short sentences; mere fragments conveyed a lifetime."--Jenny Lyons, Vermont Bookshop (Literary Hub)

"In compact, lyrical essays, Renkl captures the fleeting brutal beauty of life. Renkl's keen observations of suburban nature--birds, butterflies, and brambles--give depth and texture to the narratives she shares about her parents, her daily life, and her child's clear-eyed curiosity. Like Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk, Renkl's Late Migrations reads as a grief memoir bound up with deeply attentive nature writing."--Trista Doyle, Left Bank Books

"Late Migrations is a gorgeous, somber treasure of a book. Death and its many forms permeate Renkl's meditative work; from the death of her father to the death of a small bird in the road, grief is a constant companion throughout these pages. But the sorrow never becomes overwhelming; in fact, each passage takes on a unique, bittersweet wisdom that can only be gained by experiencing loss. Renkl's part memoir, part nature writing, and part essay collection is such a unique reading experience and one I will remember and recommend for many years to come."--Caleb Masters, Bookmarks