The Home Place
Winner of the 2017 Southern Book Prize
Winner of the Reed Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center
Finalist for the John Burroughs Medal
Named a “Best Scholarly Book of the Decade” by The Chronicle of Higher Education
“In me, there is the red of miry clay, the brown of spring floods, the gold of ripening tobacco. I am, in the deepest sense, colored.” From these fertile soils—of love, land, identity, family, and race—emerges The Home Place, a big-hearted, unforgettable memoir by ornithologist J. Drew Lanham.
Dating back to slavery, Edgefield County, South Carolina—a place “easy to pass by on the way to somewhere else”—has been home to generations of Lanhams. In The Home Place, readers meet these extraordinary people, including Drew himself, who over the course of the 1970s falls in love with the natural world around him. As his passion takes flight, however, he begins to ask what it means to be “the rare bird, the oddity”—to find joy and freedom in the same land his ancestors were tied to by forced labor, and then to be a black man in a profoundly white field.
By turns angry, funny, elegiac, and heartbreaking, The Home Place is a remarkable meditation on nature and belonging, at once a deeply moving memoir and riveting exploration of the contradictions of Black identity in the rural South—and in America today.
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Praise and Prizes
“A groundbreaking work about race and the American landscape, and a deep meditation on nature, selfhood, and the nature of home. It is thoughtful, sincere, wise, and beautiful. I want everyone to read it.”
“Consider The Home Place required reading—it’s a thoughtful and relevant-as-ever look at race and identity in the great outdoors.”
“A lyrical story about the power of the wild, The Home Place synthesizes J. Drew Lanham’s own family history, geography, nature, and race into a compelling argument for conservation and resilience.”
“[Drew Lanham’s] way of seeing and hearing and noticing the present, and the history, that birds traverse —through our backyards and beyond — is a revelatory way to be present to the world and to life in our time."
“When you’re done with The Home Place, it won’t be done with you. Its wonders will linger like everything luminous. You might find yourself hoping for a world where every family has a J. Drew Lanham in it.”
“A beautifully rendered and deeply personal story of the complex geographies of home, and displacement . . . The Home Place is a deft examination of how we come to define ourselves in a world that, in turn, is relentlessly trying to define who we are—and how we can take those definitions over and make our own.”
“One of the most moving memoirs about place I have read . . . Reading The Home Place, I knew I was in the presence of not just a writer; this is the careful work of a brilliant professor and scientist, a keen observer, a willful wanderer. This is an important book that grapples with race relations and Blackness in America, and allows us to consider who this ‘place’ truly belongs to.”
“By surrendering the world to imperial and industrial standards, we chop away at the very surroundings that allow us to live. Yet the dominant common sense asks us to divide our loyalties: Either we support racial justice or we support the environment. There can be no more important task in the world today than to upend this rotten dichotomy, to heal the manufactured rift between environmentalism and the fight for social justice. Lanham’s memoir — 'a colored man’s love affair with nature'— offers us one way to begin.”
“An extraordinary and trailblazing perspective on nature and race. J. Drew Lanham’s colorful and long-awaited memoir deeply enriches our understanding of American culture and the environmental movement, rising as it does from the silence of an entire people. This is a captivating and crucial biology and a volume I’ll proudly add to my bookshelf.”
“Wisdom and generosity fill the pages of The Home Place. This memoir and story of a familial ecosystem is anchored firmly in the Piedmont clay of South Carolina that J. Drew Lanham’s enslaved ancestors worked and would later come to own—and love. His honest and insistent words encourage us to cultivate a broader, deeper perspective that recognizes ties between race and environment in deliberate ways.”
“Through his observations of loblollies and church sermons, vireos and southerners, [Lanham’s] writing style fosters integration by drawing together the narratives of slavery and conservation and the languages of science and literature. The Home Place thus supports a promising shift in an age-old dialogue increasingly aware of diversity’s role in propagating holistic communities and resilient ecosystems.”
“To see and imagine more brown bodies, I am grateful for The Home Place. Lanham is a birdwatcher extraordinaire and I was mesmerized by his graceful descriptions of a world that seemed (all too frequently) to be lacking something like grace. I was particularly moved by his examining of what it means to be ‘the rare bird, the oddity’ of a brown person who loves to examine nature up close.”