Dating back to slavery, Edgefield County, South Carolina—a place 'easy to pass by on the way 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.'
Lanham, alumni distinguished professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, does what good scientists and poets do: he pays attention, asks questions, makes connections. And in his warm, wise and highly readable memoir, he compels the reader to do the same ... Lanham’s descriptions of his family life and upbringing in a county famous for its history of slave potters and bigoted politicians (“hatred festers just under the skin of the place”) are not self-indulgent but expansive and endearing ... It’s here, in his straddling reflections as a black man in the woods, the university, the South’s churches, that Lanham’s insights soar ... Without self-pity or self-righteousness or even summoning white guilt, he bridges the often-unacknowledged gulf between white privilege and black experience with poignant observation.
As the narrative unfolds in a series of essays, The Home Place achieves the noblest aims of historical documentation. 'Home' takes on a larger meaning and so does 'place.' Ultimately, Lanham’s collection of essays, many interdependent, some less so, leave us with a rich understanding of how he became who he is — a 'colored' man, a father, a scientist, a wanderer ... There are some caterpillar essays in here, beautiful in their way, but suggesting growth toward something different. Early on, too many nouns are asked to carry unnecessary adjectives, alliteration abounds, endings have extra sentences that subtract more than they add, but this earnest labor is on its way toward some lovely monarchs.
A deep and abiding connection to the pastures and forests of South Carolina defines J. Drew Lanham’s remarkable, boundary-breaking memoir, The Home Place ... The Home Place is a work of undeniable poetry. Like John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and other trailblazers before him, Lanham writes rapturously of the natural world, of its majesty, sublimity, and wonder. He writes of being 'colored' by the fields and the soil and the water, both in spirit and manifested in the beautiful hue of his skin. By helping to define a land ethic in a region where blacks have been historically dispossessed of their land, Lanham has created a book of monumental social, political, and philosophic importance.