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"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.
Born and raised in rural South Carolina, J. Drew Lanham is an Associate Professor and Certified Wildlife Biologist in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Clemson University. While he is widely published in his scholarly field, The Home Place will be his first book for a general audience. He lives in Seneca, SC.
"The Home Place is 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."
– Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk
"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."
– Star Tribune
"Consider is 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, J. Drew Lanham's new book, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair With Nature, synthesizes his own family history, geography, nature, and race into a compelling argument for conservation and resilience."
– National Geographic
"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. The ghosts of the past are more than just reliquaries of loss and memory; they are resources of our history, our story, our flight through life."
– Sierra Magazine
"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. Lanham has created a book of monumental social, political, and philosophic importance. He shows that the land sustains life, yes, but also how it heals and nurtures our shared humanity."
– Foreword Reviews
"Here is an extraordinary and trailblazing perspective on nature and race, told by a southern black man who became a natural scientist and a bird watcher. 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 that I'll proudly add to my bookshelf."
– Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
"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. A man 'born of forests and fields,' Lanham thinks deeply about the land writ large and our connections to it as well as to each other. His honest and insistent words encourage us to cultivate a broader, deeper perspective that recognizes ties between race and environment in deliberate ways."
– Lauret Savoy, the author of Trace
"Your world will change while reading this beautiful, deep and generous book. A book by a scientist that goes far beyond science, a book by a black man that looks issues of race in the eye but then transcends them, a book by a loving son who, in the end, finds a new identity, The Home Place is really about what it means to be human, and in particular what it means to be human in relationship to the land. It is a love song to family, soil, trees, birds, and to wildness itself. Read it and be enlarged."
– David Gessner, the author of All the Wild that Remains
"J. Drew Lanham's The Home Place teems with life – notably the author's own remarkable one. This wise and deeply felt memoir of a black naturalist's improbable journey travels the hallways of academia, the fields and forests of ornithological study, and the dusty clay roads of the rural south where it all began with grace, humility, and an abiding appreciation for this exquisite world."
– William Souder, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of the Birds of America
"Through his observations of loblollies and church sermons, vireos and southerners, Lanham provides another model, harvesting affection for a place that is not always receptive to it. His 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."
– Brevity Magazine
"Rapturous and Illuminating. A shrewd meditation on home, family, nature, and the author's native South."
"Insightful personal narrative, a nostalgic and fervent examination of home, family, nature, and community."
– Publishers Weekly