Renkl's sense of joyful belonging to the South, a region too often dismissed on both coasts in crude stereotypes and bad jokes, co-exists with her intense desire for Southerners who face prejudice or poverty finally to be embraced and supported ... Renkl at her most tender and most fierce ... Renkl's gift, just as it was in her first book Late Migrations, is to make fascinating for others what is closest to her heart ... Any initial sense of emotional whiplash faded as as I proceeded across the six sections and realized that the book is largely organized around one concept, that of fair and loving treatment for all — regardless of race, class, sex, gender or species ... What rises in me after reading her essays is Lewis' famous urging to get in good trouble to make the world fairer and better. Many people in the South are doing just that — and through her beautiful writing, Renkl is among them.
Everyone should have a friend like Margaret Renkl: thoughtful, engaged, compassionate and, above all, acutely observant ... Arranged by themes that include the natural world, politics and social justice, family and community and arts and culture, Renkl's 59 concise essays demonstrate impressive erudition ... Margaret Renkl is both unfailingly honest and deeply empathetic in creating the vivid portrait of her home region that emerges organically from these intensely personal and well-informed essays.
...luminous ... In an effort to expand our view of the South beyond stereotypes, she explores the many aspects of her beloved homeland: lush landscapes, family traditions and histories, and political and religious complexities ... Renkl's lyrical prose soars ... I keep this book nearby to revisit the humanity and hope in its pages.
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 ... Renkl often finds gifts in the mundane ... 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.
Through these warm and heartfelt essays, Renkl shows us how to keep on loving this complicated place, how to look right at its 'appalling truths' and gesture, still, toward hope ... The resulting collection of essays is stitched together like a patchwork quilt—an art form close to Renkl and passed down from her maternal ancestors ... In her effort to uncover those intricacies, a through-line emerges across the book’s six sections: Renkl’s commitment to bearing witness—to the landscape, the people, the struggle around her. She calls her readers into this role, too ... Renkl understands the important role that looking plays as a potential first step toward change, the need to allow as many people as possible to see. Here’s hoping we continue to look with her ... Renkl maintains a posture of hope and a belief in people such as those in that Hermitage neighborhood. It’s a hope that’s contagious ... There, especially, is how this collection shines—in Renkl’s ability to write with warm affection for the people and landscapes of her homeland and also look behind the curtain at the darker truths.
Renkl honors the natural beauty of her lush roots while acknowledging the ravages of slavery still embedded in the terrain .. this lovely little book is bright, courteous, and informative, even lady-like, but then Renkl ventures into territory that more timid Southerners would avoid: sex, religion, and politics ... In sharply crafted essays, she also upbraids the state she loves for its immoral array of tactics to undermine voting rights.
Renkl is a lovely writer, and to read her work is to be reminded that as a younger woman, she once aspired to be a poet. In one sense, she’s realized that dream; her lyrical sentences sing from the page ... Passages like that one underscore Renkl’s sublime style. But it’s no discredit to her to consider the fact that without her regional roots, Renkl might not have been chosen to write a regular column for the Times. Her role, both a privilege and an abiding complication, is apparently to be a Great Explainer of All Things Southern to the rest of the country ... This wounded condition, a legacy of the South’s fraught history, seems an analog of sorts for America’s current national mood. In the wake of a pandemic and racial and political strife, the broader culture also seems ill at ease. It’s why Renkl’s essays, though written by a child of the South, resonate with particular urgency ... Renkl’s columns deserve to be read again, and for years to come.
Readers can easily home in on one of the book’s wide-ranging six sections, sample an essay or two from each, or barrel through from start to finish, as whim dictates. Renkl’s voice is calm, steady, and sometimes surprising.
These collected columns are not just a celebration of Nashville’s green spaces ... Among them are fierce indictments of political malfeasance ... Come for the righteousness, stay for the linguistic sorcery ... Charming accounts of vengeful mall Santas, roadside attractions as proof of humanity’s wit and wile, and drawing peace from family heirlooms round the irresistible collection out. Renkl observes that great writers 'know their communities from the inside out'; Graceland, At Last proves the maxim with its generous helpings of Southern hospitality.
Originally written for The Times during an era of across-the-aisle appeals between friends and family, many of the essays are so brief they could fit in a well-articulated longform social media post. This brevity makes them especially shareable among loved ones and serves to combat the information fatigue so many readers experience when keeping up with the news ... These distinct topics cross-pollinate wonderfully, setting the reader up to witness the connections between each subject ... In a time when objective truths are questioned and even talking about the weather can become politicized, Renkl’s writing works to defy polarity. Love, grief, curiosity and other universal emotions ground the lofty topics of these essays ... From a craft perspective, her choice to write to the emotional heart of these stories is transformative. By choosing a first-person narrative over an unbiased journalistic tone, she removes the scaffolding of political rhetoric to reveal the relatable. It’s pure alchemy.
Renkl vividly evokes the lush natural beauty of the rivers, old-growth forests ... As she shows, that land is in peril ... Nevertheless, Renkl finds hope for change ... A wide-ranging look at the realities of the South.