6 months ago

Alabama’s Margaret Renkl, writer for New York Times, launches first book, ‘Late Migrations’

A couple of years ago, Alabama native Margaret Renkl, who had made a career out of writing and editing, was stressed. Really stressed.

Living in Nashville, she had moved her mother up from Birmingham to help take care of her in her final years.

“After my mom died, and my husband’s parents had moved up here, too, it really was unbearable,” she says. “I was dealing with grief and caregiving, and two of my three children were still living at home. It was a lot.”

Then, at the Southern Festival of Books, Renkl ran into an editor from The New York Times. The newspaper was starting a new series, The End, about end-of-life issues, and he urged her to write about her experience.

“I ended up working, first thing in the morning, 15 minutes a day, on an essay about my mother’s death and my mother-in-law dying, and at the end of the month, I sent it in, and they bought it,” Renkl says. “I did another piece, and they bought that, also. By that time, I was feeling a lot more confident.”

Her mother-in-law had also passed away, so Renkl had a bit more time.

“I was still sorting through these issues about grief, but I didn’t think of them as a book,” she says.

But they were a book, at least the beginnings of one, and last month Renkl released “Late Migrations,” a book of essays about two of Renkl’s passions – her family and the natural world.

The book has received rave reviews from celebrities and bibliophiles alike. Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine says Renkl “guides us through a South lush with bluebirds, pecan orchards and glasses of whiskey shared at dusk in this collection of prose in poetry-size bits.” Author Ann Patchett says the book has the makings of “an American classic … beautifully written, masterfully structured and brimming with insight into the natural world.” Actress Reese Witherspoon says Renkl “is the most beautiful writer. I love this book.” “Late Migrations” has been featured on NPR and in Garden & Gun and People magazines, among others.

It’s all a bit surprising to Renkl, who graduated from Auburn University with a degree in English in 1984 and earned her master’s at the University of South Carolina.

“The structure is unusual, and the subject is often sad,” Renkl says. “It’s a meditation on grief some ways, and I think we as a culture aren’t comfortable talking about death and grief. I’ve been surprised and heartened by the response.”

Renkl was born in Andalusia, but she moved to Birmingham while in first grade.

“The world I lived in in Birmingham was completely different from the world I lived in heretofore,” she says. “We went back to lower Alabama all the time, because my grandparents still lived there. That was pretty foundational for the way I think of my growing-up years.”

Renkl’s father was in real estate development, building apartment complexes, and she and her family would move from site to site, wherever her father’s company was building a complex.

“It’s a little ironic that I spent so much time in the outdoors, because we were living in the woods that my father’s company was tearing down,” says Renkl, who graduated from Homewood High School.

She and her brother, Billy, an artist who provided illustrations for “Late Migrations,” forged their collaboration early on with childhood books of poetry and illustrations. Later, Billy would be her art director when she was editor of her high school newspaper and also when she was editor of the Circle literary magazine at Auburn.

After graduate school, Renkl taught high school, but in her 10th year of teaching, she found herself on bed rest while pregnant with her second child, and since she couldn’t teach, she had to “find a way to make some money.”

She launched a 12-year freelancing career with an essay for Glamour magazine and later edited Chapter 16, an online journal for Humanities Tennessee, for 10 years.

After that, The New York Times, a publication she had failed to sell freelance essays to after several tries, came calling, and she began writing for The End. The Times soon hired her to write a regular monthly column, and six months later, they asked her to write weekly.

“I asked for my first contract to be six months instead of a year, because I wasn’t completely convinced I could come up with something every week,” Renkl says. “Then I signed a contract for a year, then another for a year. I’m pretty happy with the arrangement.”

As a regular writer for The Times, Renkl writes about “flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South,” according to the newspaper. She has written about her familyanimals and politics.

In the meantime, Renkl was continuing to write essays about her family – the grief of losing her mother, mother-in-law and, earlier, her father – and, thanks to her disdain for the 2016 political season and its aftermath, nature. “I started writing a little nature blog that had pretty much zero audience, but writing about the natural world reminded me that what was happening in the political arena was only temporary,” she says. “At some point, the other women in my writer’s group said, ‘You know this is a book, right? … This is a book about longing and loss in many different contexts.’”

Milkweed Editions agreed and worked with Renkl on “Late Migrations,” which includes memoir-type essays along with essays on nature and drawings by her brother.

“This was his family, too,” Renkl says. “So it seemed natural to me to have my story of my family include work by him. … Also, Billy’s artwork is very often about birds and insects and stars and flowers and leaves.”

Initially, Renkl paired her work with pieces her brother had already created, but he ended up creating 20 original pieces for “Late Migrations.”

“As I was reading the early drafts of the book, I came to realize that I wanted to use my voice to amplify the beautiful connections between Margaret’s backyard observations of nature and her stories about our family,” Billy Renkl says. “Eventually, I decided to aim for a carefully calibrated relationship between images that seemed to reference the history of wildlife identification guidebooks and family photo albums – images that were equal parts objective observation and idiosyncratic family myth.”

Though some have referred to “Late Migrations” as a memoir, Renkl disagrees.

“To me, that means comprehensive and complete,” she says. “These essays make no pretense to be comprehensive. I’m not telling the story of my life. I consider it primarily to be a meditation on loss and human life and in the natural world. I took great comfort, in writing both sets of essays, in seeing how what happens to us in human life is being played out all around in the natural world.”

Renkl says her parents would have loved “Late Migrations.”

“They were so proud of me, and the book is a love letter to them,” she says. “It’s a love letter to family life, to the natural world. It’s a praise song. They would have loved that.”

Margaret Renkl will be signing “Late Migrations” on Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. at Pebble Hill in Auburn; and Read Herring books, 105 S. Court St. in Montgomery, on Sept. 5. You can find her book tour schedule here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

22 mins ago

National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council endorses Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race

Friday, the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Council announced its endorsement of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race.

The National ICE Council represents approximately 7,600 officers, agents and employees who work for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) throughout the United States and its territories and possessions.

The National ICE Council endorsement comes just days before Alabama Republicans are set to vote in the party’s primary on Tuesday.

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“On behalf of the men and women of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, we’re proud to endorse Jeff Sessions for Senate in the State of Alabama,” Chris Crane, president of the ICE Council, said in a statement. “We know Jeff Sessions and we know what he stands for. As the United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions led the fight against sanctuary cities and illegal immigration, and was an unwavering champion of law enforcement officers across the nation. As a U.S. Senator, Jeff Sessions was the strongest supporter in the U.S. Congress of ICE, its mission, and its employees. We have no doubt that Senator Sessions will pick up right where he left off – standing up for law enforcement and the enforcement of our laws. We know he will continue to lead the fight against sanctuary cities that threaten our communities and endanger our law enforcement personnel across the country. And we know that he will keep fighting against radical open border policies that threaten our national security.”

“Jeff Sessions has always stood up to The Swamp and always worked to hold Washington accountable,” he added. “We need him now more than ever to stand up for what’s right and stand with President Trump to keep America safe.”

Sessions applauded the endorsement in a statement of his own, and warned of the threat sanctuary cities, open borders and illegal immigration pose to the nation.

“The men and women who serve with the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement are honorable law enforcement officers who serve at the center of this nation’s effort to end illegal immigration,” Sessions said. ‘I am honored beyond words to have the ICE Council’s strong endorsement. We have fought side by side against the powerful, special interest forces that constantly work to further the lawlessness that is occurring at the border. We stood side by side in the effort to elect President Trump. Sanctuary cities and open borders are a threat to our nation. They encourage illegal immigration, protect dangerous criminal gangs, and undermine the rule of law.”

“I am extremely proud of this endorsement,” he added. “No organization has been more committed to law and our national sovereignty than the ICE officers. Their endorsement is therefore extremely valuable. I believe the people of Alabama should recognize how important this endorsement is in understanding who can be most effective in the Senate. I have fought to stop sanctuary cities and I will not rest until our immigration laws are enforced and dangerous aliens are taken off the streets.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.

2 hours ago

McCutcheon endorses Chris Lewis in AL-05 GOP primary — ‘Time to make a change’

Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) on Thursday announced his endorsement of Congressman Mo Brooks’ (AL-05) Republican primary challenger, Chris Lewis.

In a brief video filmed outside the State Capitol and released by Lewis’ campaign, McCutcheon explained his support.

“Many people and organizations across North Alabama have discussed with me that it is time to make a change in our congressional seat,” the speaker said. McCutcheon represents parts of Madison County and Limestone County.

He further spoke to Lewis’ service in the United States military.

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Lewis is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Naval War College. He retired as a commander from the Navy after 23 years of service. His extensive experience reportedly includes multiple combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, service as a strategic analyst for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a decade of defense acquisition experience and Contract Transition Team Lead for Arnold Engineering Development Complex at Arnold Air Force Base.

“Chris has proven his commitment to our nation through his military service,” McCutcheon remarked.

The speaker also highlighted some of the groups who have endorsed Lewis’ bid, including the Alabama Farmers Federation’s political arm.

“I believe Chris has the heart of a servant leader and would be a fine congressman for North Alabama,” he concluded.

Brooks has been endorsed for reelection by President Donald Trump.

The primary will be held on Tuesday, March 3.

Responding to the McCutcheon endorsement, Brooks told Yellowhammer News in a statement, “Bigger government, higher taxing, open borders loving, Never Trump special interest groups and political forces have coalesced around a like-minded Chris Lewis. I wear their opposition like a red badge of courage. I will NEVER put their personal greed and self-interest above my support for America! They know it. I know it. Our team is proud to fight them on behalf of an America we love.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

7 Things: UAB battling the coronavirus, ‘Teachers Bill of Rights’, activists want Madison County to ignore marijuana laws and more …

7. Ban on an occupational tax passes

  • The City of Montgomery wanted to tax people who worked in the city but didn’t live in the city, which is essentially a tax on a job, but the Alabama legislature didn’t think this was a good idea and have killed it.
  • The tax on non-residents has been a problem for legislators for years, but the bill would not repeal any occupational taxes. It just stops city councils from implementing new ones without legislative approval.

6. Senate committee advances death penalty bill

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  • The bill by State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) that would shorten the appeals process for death penalty cases has been advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will now move to the full Senate.
  • The bill seeks to remove having to go through the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and just going straight to the Alabama Supreme Court, but will still provide the ability to appeal on the federal level.

5. Aniah’s Law passes

  • The bill that would allow judges more ability to deny bail for those who are accused of violent crimes has been passed by the Alabama House of Representatives.
  • State Representative Chris Brown (R-Mobile), the sponsor of the bill, said, “Too many of those who are accused of violent crimes are bonding out of jail and committing even more serious offenses, and it is time for law-abiding Alabamians to start fighting back.”

4. Bernie Sanders is in first and he can beat Trump

  • In new polling data released by Fox News, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary with 31% polling, while former Vice President Joe Biden slips to second with 18%, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is in third with 16%, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has 12% in fourth place and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren is down in fifth place with 10%.
  • Biden looks good in the most recent polling out of South Carolina which has him leading Sanders 36 to 16%. A big victory in the Palmetto State could give new life to Biden’s flailing campaign.

3. Decriminalizing marijuana in Madison County

  • A letter sent to Madison County leaders by the Madison County Democratic Executive Committee, League of Women Voters of the Tennessee Valley, UAH College Democrats and the NAACP of Huntsville requests that marijuana be decriminalized.
  • The letter states that “to improve the public safety, social equity, and overall well-being of our community” the county should stop arresting people for marijuana possession and also “drop all criminal charges related to cannabis possession,” claiming that this “will help ease racial disparities in community policing, allowing greater enforcement emphasis on crimes that have victims.”

2. Students need to start respecting their teachers

  • Legislation that’s been deemed the “Teacher Bill of Rights” is being considered, which would give teachers 10 rights, including being able to discipline students, remove students from the classroom and to “be treated with civility and respect.”
  • An attorney for the Alabama Education Association Clint Daughtry explained, “Teachers are … the only group of college-education professionals that I know of that run the risk on a daily basis of being hit, kicked, slapped, scratched, what have you.”

1. UAB helping solve the coronavirus crisis

  • With coronavirus wrecking the stock market, a panic is underway, but the University of Alabama at Birmingham has been researching and developing the drug remdesivir through the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center; that same drug is being used to treat coronavirus patients across the United States and in China.
  • The work to develop the drug was funded by a grant awarded by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee after U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) became the chairman. Shelby said that this research “could help save thousands around the world.”

5 hours ago

Sessions: Tuberville’s position on trade undermines Trump’s negotiating position

Trade has been at the forefront of public policy discussions in recent days, especially as President Donald Trump has taken a more hawkish approach to the issue in his first term.

That has especially been true with regards to U.S. trade policy regarding China, a nation in which Trump has used tariffs as bargaining tool.

During an interview with Huntsville radio’s WVNN, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a candidate for the Republican nomination for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat up for grabs in November, applauded Trump’s approach. However, he also took a dig at his opponent, former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, who Sessions said referred to himself as a “100% free trader.”

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“[China] has got to come to the table,” he said. “You have got to use tariffs to bring them to the table. And if we bring them to the table, we’ll be able to begin a real historic change in their behavior and help American manufacturing. That’s one of the reasons I’m running. Both the border and this need to be done within a year or two of taking office.”

Sessions argued Tuberville’s position on trade undermined Trump’s negotiating ability, given the contrast.

“And I’ve got to say — Tommy Tuberville said he is a 100% free trader,” Sessions added. “He said he opposes tariffs. And he even said he didn’t agree with Trump’s China policy. This is cutting his legs out from under him, making it harder for him to negotiate. The last thing we need to be doing is undermining President Trump’s negotiating position. We’re going to win that negotiation, I’m telling you. And we’re going to make this situation better with China, and we’re going to keep winning in the future.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.

5 hours ago

Tuberville vows to give salary to veterans’ causes if elected — Tells Bradley Byrne, Jeff Sessions ‘to have some manhood about you’

Former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville’s comments about the Trump administration’s handling of veterans’ issues last August 2019 at the Shoals Republican Club have been a focal point of the contest for the Republican nomination for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat up in November.

“I’m pissed off at Donald Trump that our vets can’t get health care,” Tuberville said, speaking to the group at the time. “And if I ever get to see him, I’m going to tell him that. You said you were going to fix it, and it ain’t fixed. And that’s who we ought to be taking care of — these young men and women.”

During an appearance on Birmingham talk radio’s 99.5 on Thursday, co-hosts Andrea Lindenberg and Matt Murphy asked Tuberville to address those remarks, which have been used by opponents in political advertising against his candidacy.

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Tuberville said he was upset not with just President Donald Trump but everyone, including himself. As a show of his concern, he pledged to donate his U.S. Senate salary to veterans’ causes.

“Everybody is responsible — the president, me, you, out Congress because they have done something nobody else will do, which is protect this country,” he said. “My salary — you know what I’m doing? I’m going to come on your show once every few months, and I’m going to give my salary, a check, to a veteran or a wife that has lost her husband, or their kids to go to school. I’m not taking one dime, and I’m giving it to the veterans. I stand and put up when I talk. I don’t just talk about it. I’m going to do it. So, yes — I’m mad at everybody.”

When asked if he had any regrets about his statement, he reiterated his support of the president but indicated those remarks were an indication of his willingness to “tell it like it is.”

“Listen, I’m 100% behind Donald Trump,” he said. “He’s the best thing to happen to this country since I’ve been on this earth in terms of getting things done. But he knows. He understands. And he is doing as much as he can. It’s kind of like me getting chewed out for losing a football game when our offensive line didn’t block anybody. He’s got people working for him. But who is going to get the blame? The president is going to get the blame. The head coach is going to get the blame. I’m going to tell it like it is, and if folks don’t like the way I tell it — don’t vote for me because I’m going to tell it. I’m not a politician. I’m not one of these career politicians who is just going to go up there and take a paycheck and hide when there’s a tough vote, or there is something tough that needs to be said about somebody. And I’m going to call it out. But I’m telling you right now: Our veterans need help. They need help now. Not next week, not next year.”

Tuberville also used the discussion about his comments as an opportunity to criticize his opponents former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), who he called on to “have some manhood about you.”

“Listen, I’m not going to be a ‘yes man,'” he said. “The people in Alabama deserve somebody who is going to speak for them. And if I need to say something to the president or the leader of the Senate, or secretary of state, I’m going to speak my voice. I’m not going to go up there as a dang puppet. These guys, as you said — Sessions got fired. He has got no business running for this job because he is not going to be respected when he goes back. Bradley Byrne — he turned on the president before he was even elected. And they’re getting on the knees, crawling now to tell people they’re supporting President Trump. My gosh, have some manhood about you. Speak your piece. What did you do it for? Speak your piece.”

“Jeff Sessions did more to protect Hillary Clinton than he did Donald Trump,” Tuberville added. “You think about that — and it really tees me off.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.