Late Migrations

A Natural History of Love and Loss
“Beautifully written, masterfully structured, and brimming with insight into the natural world … It has the makings of an American classic.”—ANN PATCHETT
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A Barnes & Noble Nonfiction Monthly Pick
A BuzzFeed Best New Paperback
A TODAY Show #ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick
Named a “Best Book of the Year” by New Stateman, New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library, and Washington Independent Review of Books
Southern Book Prize Finalist
An Indie Next Selection, selected by booksellers

From New York Times contributing opinion writer Margaret Renkl comes an unusual, captivating portrait of a family—and of the cycles of joy and grief that inscribe human lives within the natural world.

Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents—her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father—and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child’s transition to caregiver.

And here, braided into the overall narrative, Renkl offers observations on the world surrounding her suburban Nashville home. Ringing with rapture and heartache, these essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. As these two threads haunt and harmonize with each other, Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things: in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. For in both worlds—the natural one and our own—“the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love’s own twin.”

Gorgeously illustrated by the author’s brother, Billy Renkl, Late Migrations is an assured and memorable debut.



Publish Date
8.5 × 5.5 × 0.75 in
12 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

  • “Beautifully written, masterfully structured, and brimming with insight into the natural world, Late Migrations can claim its place alongside Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and A Death in the Family. It has the makings of an American classic.”

    Ann Patchett
  • “[Margaret Renkl] is the most beautiful writer! I love this book. It’s about the South, and growing up there, and about her love of nature and animals and her wonderful family.”

    Reese Witherspoon
  • “A perfect book to read in the summer … This is the kind of writing that makes me just want to stay put, reread and savor everything about that moment.”

    Maureen Corrigan
    NPR’s Fresh Air
  • “Equal parts Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott with a healthy sprinkle of Tennessee dry rub thrown in.”

    New York Times Book Review
  • “A compact glory, crosscutting between consummate family memoir and keenly observed backyard natural history. Margaret Renkl’s deft juxtapositions close up the gap between humans and nonhumans and revive our lost kinship with other living things.”

    Richard Powers
    author of The Overstory
  • “Magnificent … Conjure your favorite place in the natural world: beach, mountain, lake, forest, porch, windowsill rooftop? Precisely there is the best place in which to savor this book.”
  • Late Migrations has echoes of Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life—with grandparents, sons, dogs and birds sharing the spotlight, it’s a witty, warm and unaccountably soothing all-American story.”

  • “[Renkl] guides us through a South lush with bluebirds, pecan orchards, and glasses of whiskey shared at dusk in this collection of prose in poetry-size bits; as it celebrates bounty, it also mourns the profound losses we face every day.”

    O, the Oprah Magazine
  • “One of the best books I’ve read in a long time … [and] one of the most beautiful essay collections that I have ever read. It will give you chills.”

    Silas House
    author of Southernmost
  • “Graceful … like a belated answer to [E.B.] White.”

    Wall Street Journal
  • “This warm, rich memoir might be the sleeper of the summer. She grew up in the South, nursed her aging parents, and never once lost her love for life, light, and the natural world. Beautiful is the word, beautiful all the way through.”

    Philadelphia Inquirer
  • “Like the spirituality of Krista Tippett’s On Being meets the brevity of Joe Brainard … The miniature essays in Late Migrations approach with modesty, deliver bittersweet epiphanies, and feel like small doses of religion.”

    Literary Hub
  • “Clear-eyed revelations about the cycle of life and death … [Renkl’s] prose style is accessible and also astonishing.”

    Southern Review of Books
  • “Reflective and gorgeous … It [is] a beautiful walk in the woods … about relationships, about family, about friendships, about finding who you are.”

    Jenna Bush Hager
  • “Renkl feels the lives and struggles of each creature that enters her yard as keenly as she feels the paths followed by her mother, grandmother, her people. Learning to accept the sometimes harsh, always lush natural world may crack open a window to acceptance of our own losses. In Late Migrations, we welcome new life, mourn its passing, and honor it along the way.”

    Indie Next List (July 2019)
    selected by Kat Baird, The Book Bin
  • “This is the story of grief accelerated by beauty and beauty made richer by grief … Like Patti Smith in Woolgathering, Renkl aligns natural history with personal history so completely that the one becomes the other. Like Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Renkl makes, of a ring of suburbia, an alchemical exotica.”

    The Rumpus
  • “[A] stunning collection of essays merging the natural landscapes of Alabama and Tennessee with generations of family history, grief and renewal. Renkl’s voice sounds very close to the reader’s ear: intimate, confiding, candid and alert.”

    Shelf Awareness
  • “[A] magnificent debut … Renkl instructs that even amid life’s most devastating moments, there are reasons for hope and celebration. Readers will savor each page and the many gems of wisdom they contain.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • Late Migrations is … an unexpected light shining, bringing beauty and clarity to loss. Renkl has depicted a glorious world in this collection—a glorious world not despite its darkness, but because of it. Her prose warms and welcomes you into her world of bewildering opposites that we all experience and can connect to grief and joy, life and death, fear and acceptance.”

  • Late Migrations is a gift, and fortunate readers will steal away to a beloved nook or oasis to commune with its riches. Or they will simply dig into it, unprepared, like the mother with no gardening tools who determinedly pulls weeds until the ground blossoms. They might entrust it to fellow seekers they believe can handle its power. Consecrated, they’ll leave initiated into an art of observation lived beautifully in richness, connection, worry, and love.”

    The Christian Century
  • “Margaret Renkl’s Late Migrations is such a beautiful book, you’ll want to gift it to someone you love. Meditative and poetic, without being stuffy, Renkl gets at the meanings in life.”

    Campus Circle
  • “Renkl holds my attention with essays about plants and caterpillars in a way no other nature writer can.”

    Mary Laura Philpott
    author of I Miss You When I Blink
  • “A close and vigilant witness to loss and gain, Margaret Renkl wrenches meaning from the intimate moments that define us. Her work is a chronicle of being. And a challenge to cynicism. Late Migrations is flat-out brilliant and it has arrived right on time.”

    John T. Edge
    author of The Potlikker Papers
  • “Gracefully written and closely observed, Margaret Renkl’s lovely essays are tinged with the longing for family and places now gone while rejoicing in the flutter of birds and life still alive.”

    Alan Lightman
    author of Einstein’s Dreams
  • Late Migrations is the psychological and spiritual portrait of an entire family and place presented in quick takes—snapshots—a soul’s true memoir. The dire dreams and fears of childhood, the mother’s mysterious tears, the imperfect beloved family … all are part of a charged and vibrant natural world also filled with rivalry, conflict, the occasional resolution, loss, and delight. Late Migrations is a continual revelation.”

    Lee Smith
    author of The Last Girls