PODCAST

Episode 367: J. Drew Lanham

BY MEGAN LABRISE • April 9, 2024

Ornithologist J. Drew Lanham offers an artful meditation on race and recreation.

On this week’s Fully Booked podcast, J. Drew Lanham discusses Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves (Hub City Press, April 2), a personal and profound mixture of poetry and prose from the author of Sparrow Envy: A Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beastsand The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair With Nature.

Lanham, who grew up in Edgefield and Aiken, South Carolina, is an ornithologist, naturalist, professor, poet, and 2022 MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient. An alumni distinguished professor and master teacher of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, he is a passionate advocate for birding, outdoor recreation, and environmental conservation. In his poetry and lyrical essays, he clearly and movingly examines the racism people of color often face while attempting to enjoy the great outdoors.

Here’s a bit from our starred review of Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves: “‘Miracles occur by evolutionary adaptation and seasonal migration,’ writes Lanham, author of Sparrow Envy and The Home Place. On the same page, the author acknowledges that ‘people die by the police because their Black lives don’t matter.’ The power of this book is in how well it holds the duality of these truths. We see that the pain created by humanity does not necessarily negate the beauty. Early on, he writes, ‘Be advised, every poem isn’t an ode to joy, and yes, sometimes there is sadness, or anger within the words.’ Lanham is masterful at showing how, despite the struggles of climate change, war, and racism, among other societal ills, joy is present, and choosing to pursue delight in the face of injustice is a brave act.…With his consistently engaging writing, keen eye, and generosity of spirit, Lanham is a writer to whom we should all listen closely. Lanham memorably, vibrantly shows how choosing joy is an act of resilience, courage, and power.”

Lanham shares the story of how Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves came to be. We then discuss depicting birds metaphorically or allegorically in lush language; the importance of rhythm and rhyme in poetry, prose, and conversation; the meaning of the word alula; and the process of compiling one’s notes into a larger work. We talk about the importance of the Piedmont, which covers about one-third of Lanham’s home state; how living in the modern world can sometimes seem incomprehensible and overwhelming and make you want to take a nap; the absence of a hierarchy of emotion when encountering the truth of lived experience. Then we take a deep dive into the poem “The Sweetest War”; talk about what it’s like to work with Hub City Press; and explore the feeling of being outside surrounded by birdsong.

After the interview, editors Laura Simeon, Mahnaz Dar, Eric Liebetrau, and Laurie Muchnick share their top picks in books for the week.

 

EDITORS’ PICKS:

The Brock/Pike/Rook/Lark quartet by Anthony McGowan (Union Square & Co.)

The Wrong Way Home by Kate O’Shaughnessy (Knopf)

A History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks by David Gibbins (St. Martin’s)

The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo (Flatiron Books)

 

ALSO MENTIONED ON THIS EPISODE:

Early Morning Riserby Katherine Heiny

After the Fireby Will Hill

Shipwrecked!: Diving for Hidden Time Capsules on the Ocean Floor by Martin W. Sandler

 

THANKS TO OUR SPONSORS:

Falling From Disgrace by Tammy Dietz

Freedom: Your Path to Recovery by James Eade

Of Vital Interest by Frank Demith

Espionage: Regime Change by Tom Easton and Frank Wu

 

Fully Booked is produced by Cabel Adkins Audio and Megan Labrise.

 

 

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