Late Migrations|Margaret Renkl
Late Migrations : A Natural History of Love and Loss
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Named a Best Book of the Year by New Statesman, New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library, and Washington Independent Review of Books

Southern Book Prize Finalist

From New York Times contributing opinion writer Margaret Renkl comes an unusual, captivating portrait of a family--and of the cycles of joy and grief that inscribe human lives within the natural world.

Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents--her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father--and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child's transition to caregiver.

And here, braided into the overall narrative, Renkl offers observations on the world surrounding her suburban Nashville home. Ringing with rapture and heartache, these essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. As these two threads haunt and harmonize with each other, Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things: in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. For in both worlds--the natural one and our own--"the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love's own twin."

Gorgeously illustrated by the author's brother, Billy Renkl, Late Migrations is an assured and memorable debut.


  • ISBN-13: 9781571313782
  • ISBN-10: 1571313788
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions
  • Publish Date: July 2019
  • Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Page Count: 248

Late Migrations

“Human beings are storytelling creatures, craning to see the crumpled metal in the closed-off highway lane, working from the moment the traffic slows to construct a narrative from what’s left behind. But our tales, even the most tragic ones, hinge on specificity. The story of one drowned Syrian boy washed up in the surf keeps us awake at night with grief. The story of four million refugees streaming out of Syria seems more like a math problem.”

Margaret Renkl nestles that observation into “The Unpeaceable Kingdom,” an essay midway through Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss. But it could serve as a thesis for her collection. 

Late Migrations is a collection of essays, some as short as a paragraph, that reconcile Renkl’s lived experience with the natural world around her. She resides in suburban Nashville, not a wilderness, and works at a desk, not in the outdoors. Even so, Renkl is so in touch with the birds and butterflies of her yard that one could mistake her for a trained naturalist. Indeed, she is known as a nature writer; as a New York Times contributing op-ed writer, she writes about flora and fauna, as well as the American South’s politics and culture. 

The essays that compose Late Migrations stand on their own, offering glimpses into loss and living as they toggle between Renkl’s past and present across the Southern U.S. Taken together, though, they create a narrative that depicts not only the migrations of winged creatures but also the lives of Renkl’s family. (Appropriately, Renkl’s reflections are punctuated with illustrations by her brother, Billy Renkl. The images are as captivating as the author’s contemplative yet powerful words.) 

As Renkl observes the lives around her, she notes that a “life cycle” could just as accurately be dubbed a “death cycle.” But the term we use is more reflective of the human approach to life, as evident throughout Renkl’s quiet, lovely observations.

She writes, “Human beings are creatures made for joy. Against all evidence, we tell ourselves that grief and loneliness and despair are tragedies, unwelcome variations from the pleasure and calm and safety that in the right way of the world would form the firm ground of our being.”