Graceland, At Last
For the past four years, Margaret Renkl’s columns have offered readers of the New York Times a weekly dose of natural beauty, human decency, and persistent hope from her home in Nashville. Now more than sixty of those pieces have been brought together in this sparkling new collection.
“People have often asked me how it feels to be the ‘voice of the South,’” writes Renkl in her introduction. “But I’m not the voice of the South, and no one else is, either.” There are many Souths—red and blue, rural and urban, mountain and coast, Black and white and brown—and no one writer could possibly represent all of them. In Graceland, At Last, Renkl writes instead from her own experience about the complexities of her homeland, demonstrating along the way how much more there is to this tangled region than many people understand.
In a patchwork quilt of personal and reported essays, Renkl also highlights some other voices of the South, people who are fighting for a better future for the region. A group of teenagers who organized a youth march for Black Lives Matter. An urban shepherd whose sheep remove invasive vegetation. Church parishioners sheltering the homeless. Throughout, readers will find the generosity of spirit and deep attention to the world, human and nonhuman, that keep readers returning to her columns each Monday morning.
From a writer who “makes one of all the world’s beings” (NPR), Graceland, At Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South is a book full of gifts for Southerners and non-Southerners alike.
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Praise and Prizes
“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.”
“Graceland, At Last takes us to Renkl’s homeland and shines a light on 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“New York Times columnist Renkl effectively lifts the lid on 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“It’s a gut 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.”
“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.”
“Margaret Renkl is terrific. I loved dipping in and out of these essays.”