Margaret Renkl’s name was already familiar to readers in Nashville, Tennessee, where she was the founding editor of the online literary publication Chapter 16, and to readers of the New York Times, where she is a contributing opinion writer. But when her memoir, Late Migrations, was published in 2019, Renkl’s celebration of the natural world and family drew praise from reviewers, readers and popular book club facilitators nationwide.
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. The collection is organized thematically, touching on topics present in Late Migrations and others such as politics, religion, social justice, arts and culture.
These essays can be read with their original contexts in mind, thanks to the inclusion of their publication dates. For example, in “Hawk. Lizard. Mole. Human.,” Renkl writes of “days that grow ever darker as fears gather and autumn comes on.” The column, published in August 2020, may remind today’s readers of the spike in COVID-19 cases that occured in the fall of 2020. But the columns hold up equally well without the recollection of where you were when they were first written.
Renkl often finds gifts in the mundane, such as in a power outage caused by storms, recounted in “The Night the Lights Went Out.” But her concern about the precariousness of our environment never wanes, showing up even in the midst of this celebration of the simplicity of a few days without power.
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. As she writes in the introduction, “To love the South is to see with clear eyes both its terrible darkness and its dazzling light, and to spend a lifetime trying to make sense of both.”