Graceland, At Last

Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South
Available now in paperback!

“Renkl at her most tender and most fierce.”—NPR
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Winner of the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
Winner of the Southern Book Prize
Reed Award Finalist
An Indie Next Selection, selected by booksellers

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.

Publish Date
8.5 × 5.5 × 1 in
14 oz

Margaret Renkl

Margaret Renkl is the author of Graceland, At Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South and Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss. 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. The founding editor of Chapter 16, a daily literary publication of Humanities Tennessee, and a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Carolina, she lives in Nashville.

Praise and Prizes

  • “Margaret Renkl’s weekly essays for the New York Times offer a model for how to move through our world with insight and sensitivity. Graceland, At Last: Notes on Hope and Heartbreak from the American South takes in the full scope of her surroundings, and the reader walks away wanting to see as she sees, hear what she hears, smell what she smells. It’s a stellar collection that spans nature writing and cultural criticism, the present and the past, full of explorations of religion, belief, and Southern politics that flex a cordial, probing curiosity. She picks good heroes—John Lewis, John Prine, ‘the lowly Tennessee coneflower’—and she makes sharp judgments without sounding judgmental. At a moment of extreme division, Renkl writes with a generosity of spirit, as a neighbor rather than ideologue.”

    PEN America Judges’ Citation
    Winner of the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
  • “[Graceland, at Last] is Renkl at her most tender and most fierce … Renkl’s gift, just as it was in her first book Late Migrations, is to make fascinating for others what is closest to her heart … What rises in me after reading her essays is [John] Lewis’ famous urging to get in good trouble to make the world fairer and better. Many people in the South are doing just that — and through her beautiful writing, Renkl is among them.”

  • “In this luminous collection, Margaret Renkl delivers smart, beautifully crafted personal and political observations … I keep this book nearby to revisit the humanity and hope in its pages.”

    Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • “Amazing and inspiring. [Graceland, At Last] will help you figure out concrete things you can do to save the planet.”

    Ann Patchett
  • “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
  • “Everyone should have a friend like Margaret Renkl: thoughtful, engaged, compassionate and, above all, acutely observant. Since that’s not always possible, the next best thing is to share her company in the diverse and consistently stimulating essay collection Graceland, at Last … Renkl is both unfailingly honest and deeply empathetic in creating the vivid portrait of her home region that emerges organically from these intensely personal and well-informed essays.”

    Shelf Awareness
  • Graceland, At Last gathers a selection of Renkl’s columns from the past four years, inviting loyal readers and newcomers alike to take in Renkl’s perspective on the world … Whether extolling the wonders of a rattlesnake or lamenting Southern Christians’ support of oppressive policies, Renkl engages with her home region’s beauty and complexity.”

  • 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.”

    Literary Hub, “Most Anticipated Books of 2021”
  • “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
  • “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
  • 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.”

    Publishers Weekly
  • “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’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
  • “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
  • “Margaret Renkl’s perspective feels like a guiding light … No matter where you’re from, column after column, Margaret Renkl will make you feel right at home.”

    Olive Fellows, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • “[Renkl] doesn’t shy from hard topics but explores them with the careful hand of someone whose heart yearns for healing, growth, and understanding for the region she loves. A must read for those who live and love the South!”

    Country Living, “Best Books of Fall 2021”
  • “Reading the short essays in this book has strengthened my understanding and love for the South, its people, its land, and its complexities. I especially have enjoyed reading Renkl’s thoughtful reflections on flora and fauna, and I find myself looking to my changing backyard this fall with a new appreciation.”

    Garden & Gun, “New Reads for Fall 2021”
  • “Readers can easily home in on one of the book’s wide-ranging six sections, sample an essay or two from each, or barrel through from start to finish, as whim dictates. Renkl’s voice is calm, steady, and sometimes surprising … She celebrates a host of new voices in southern writing and sees in their work the light of justice and hope for the South.”

  • “As the essays collected in Graceland, At Last prove, she’s challenged her readers to rise and confront many of the complex issues facing our Southern communities … Renkl, an Alabama native and lifelong Southerner living in Nashville, does so with such deep respect and understanding, and such powerful, insightful, Southern-accented prose, that even her polemics come off as love letters … We catch glimpses of ourselves in her wise and poignant reflections, and I for one am grateful and grinning.”

    Stephanie Hunt
    Charleston Post and Courier
  • “In her newest book, Graceland, At Last, Margaret Renkl invites readers—southerners and non-southerners alike—into her homeland, her city, her yard … What we discover along the way is a place that is both ‘damaged and damaging,’ but also full of people who inspire and landscapes too beautiful for words. Through these warm and heartfelt essays, Renkl shows us how to keep on loving this complicated place, how to look right at its ‘appalling truths’ and gesture, still, toward hope.”

    Southern Humanities Review
  • “While [Graceland, at Last] is not a how-to, we come away with how to better ‘belong to one another’ in a time when we desperately need to.”

    The Arkansas International
  • “It’s heartening to see a columnist for a major American newspaper writing regularly about nature with a passion the media’s chattering classes typically reserve only for politics and entertainment … Renkl’s columns deserve to be read again, and for years to come.”

    Christian Science Monitor
  • “Renkl is so likable, as a writer and an individual, with her rich family traditions, her concern for justice, and her observant and unsentimental love of nature, that every paragraph feels like a conversation with a friend.”

  • “Renkl is a master prose stylist, her generation’s E.B. White. Whatever she writes about comes alive through carefully crafted sentences in which sound and sense harmonize at the highest levels.”

    California Review of Books
  • “Downing’s elegant, engaging memoir will have particular significance to readers from the Caribbean diaspora, but it will be understood by any reader who has ever had their world suddenly upended and needed to make it whole again.”

    Library Journal
  • “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
  • “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
  • “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
  • “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 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.”

    Sarah Young, Raven Book Store
  • “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