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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.

— Graceland, At Last by Margaret Renkl

Graceland, At Last

For the past five 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 introduces 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.

Winner of the 2022 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

From the judges: 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.

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“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

“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

“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.”

The Wall Street Journal

“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.”


“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”

Learn More about Graceland, At Last


Margaret Renkl is the author of Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss (Milkweed Editions, 2019) and Graceland, At Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South (Milkweed Editions, 2021). Renkl is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, where her essays appear each Monday. A graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Carolina, she lives in Nashville.