J. Drew Lanham
A native of Edgefield, South Carolina, J. Drew Lanham is the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, which received the Reed Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Southern Book Prize, and was a finalist for the John Burroughs Medal. Most recently, he is the author of Sparrow Envy: Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts. He is a birder, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist who has published essays and poetry in publications including Orion, Audubon, Flycatcher, and Wilderness, and in several anthologies, including The Colors of Nature, State of the Heart, Bartram’s Living Legacy, and Carolina Writers at Home. Lanham is a 2022 MacArthur Fellow. An Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University, he and his family live in the Upstate of South Carolina, a soaring hawk’s downhill glide from the southern Appalachian escarpment that the Cherokee once called the Blue Wall.
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Books by J. Drew Lanham
Author Q & A
You mentioned yourself that black birders, to use your terminology, are an endangered species. I think you said that birding is one of the whitest things that you can do. Why is that?
Well, I grew up in Edgefield, South Carolina, kind of in the boondocks, and birds were just a natural part of my life. But as I began to watch birds from the second grade onward, I didn't run into anyone who looked like me who liked birds. It just became clear that it was an overwhelmingly white hobby. And I think the data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bears that out.
You end “Nine Rules for the Black Bird Watcher” with a pretty sharp point about how birders should care more about than just counting birds. What do you mean by that?
There are millions of birders doing things from feeding their birds in their backyards to traveling great distances to see birds. And because it's a hobby that depends on us watching a living thing that's also a bellwether of the environment, I think we're tasked with doing more than just watching and tasked with doing more than just listening. Thinking about how we can serve these beautiful creatures as fellow beings on the planet who share air and water and earth, it's critical that we think beyond our binoculars to think about conserving those other beings that share our space.