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Publish Date: September 2000
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
BY Janisse Ray
Janisse Ray grew up in a junkyard along U.S. Highway 1, hidden from Florida-bound travelers by the hedge at the edge of the road and by hulks of old cars, stacks of blown-out tires, and primeval jumbles of rusted metal. Ecology of a Cracker Childhood tells how a childhood spent in rural isolation—living in the country but not even knowing how to swim—grew into a passion to save the almost vanished longleaf pine ecosystem that existed before the region was ever called the South.
In language at once colloquial, elegiac, and informative, Ray redeems two Souths. She shows the world perceived from a junkyard by a child reared in a fundamentalist religion with relatives as colorful as any character from fiction. She also catalogs the Edenic beauty of longleaf pine forests, where orchids grow amid wiregrass at the feet of widely spaced, lofty trees. Today, both worlds exist in fragments, cherished and threatened.
BEYOND THE BOOK
• Reading Ecology of a Cracker Childhood for a book club? Keep the discussion lively with this Reading Group Guide.
OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR:
"The forests of the southeast find their Rachel Carson.... In Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, part memoir, part clarion call to save the longleaf pine, she casts a loving but unflinching eye on growing up poor and fundamentalist in southeast Georgia.... Sometimes a book is so powerful, it holds its writer hostage.”—Anne Raver, New York Times
“[Ray's] tale of growing up poor and white in backwoods Georgia is suffused with the same history-haunted sense of loss that imprints so much of the South and its literature. What sets Ecology of a Cracker Childhood apart is the ambitious and arresting mission implied in its title. Ray's lament for a lost landscape and a lost way of life centers on a South that has little to do with cotillions, columned mansions or cotton plantations.... Ray's passion for preserving this unsung landscape is heartfelt and refreshing.”—Tony Horwitz, New York Times Book Review
“The gorgeously written Ecology of a Cracker Childhood combines memoir and nature writing in such a way as to take the reader there, to the longleaf pine forests of south Georgia before it was all logged away.”—Bloomsbury Review, Editor's Favorite Books of 1999
“More than her passion for the wilderness, her activism or her outrage, it is her capacity for wonder that wins us to her fervent environmentalism—a capacity born and bred, ironically, not in the college biology lab or the naturalist's notebook but in the brier patch of a junkyard adrift with car guts, old lawn mowers, broken glass.”—Amy Godine, Orion
“Prose that's a treat to ear and tongue alike.... Ray's redemptive story of an impovershed childhood brings to mind the novels of Dorothy Allison and the nature writing of Amy Blackmarr, but the stunning voice and vision are hers alone.... Precise, illuminating, and striking.... Moving easily between the cast-off ugliness of the junkyard and the majesty of old-growth forest, she finds ample beauty in each.—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)