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 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.”
“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.”
“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.”