4 weeks 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)

9 hours ago

Alabama Forestry Association endorses Brad Mendheim for state Supreme Court

The Alabama Forestry Association (AFA) on Monday announced its endorsement of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Brad Mendheim in the Republican primary for place two on the court.

Mendheim was first appointed to the state’s highest court by Governor Kay Ivey in 2018. He lost election to a full term to that office in the 2018 election cycle but was appointed to a different vacancy, place two, on the Supreme Court by Ivey earlier this year.

In a statement, AFA executive vice president Chris Isaacson said, “We are proud to support Justice Mendheim in his race for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court.”

“His conservative judicial philosophy along with a proven track record earned over 20 years make him the right person for the job,” he concluded.

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Prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court by Ivey, Mendheim was a circuit judge for Houston and Henry counties from 2009- 2018.

Before his election to that office, he served as district judge of Houston County from 2001-2008 and as an assistant district attorney, making him uniquely qualified as a former prosecutor and trial judge.

“I am honored to receive the support of Forest PAC, a group which has a long reputation of supporting conservative leaders in the state of Alabama,” Mendheim emphasized.

He advised, “My judicial philosophy is simple: to follow the Constitution and rule with impartiality, and I pledge to continue that as long as I am privileged to serve. It is not our role on the Alabama Supreme Court to bring a political agenda to work, and I strongly believe that groups such as the Forestry Association recognize that all who come before our court deserve two things: a fair review of the facts and ultimately, for the rule of law to be upheld.”

During his judicial career, Mendheim has presided over more than 300 jury trials.

He graduated with a BA from Auburn University and went on to receive his JD from Cumberland School of Law. Mendheim and his wife, Michelle, have been married for over 24 years. They are the proud parents of three sons: Connor, Ryan and Carson. They are long time members of First Baptist Church of Dothan, where Brad is a Sunday school teacher and deacon.

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

9 hours ago

Alabama’s Tony Cochran launches new initiative to help grow small businesses

After 40 years of business advising, Alabama-based businessman Tony Cochran is excited to announce the creation of Team Delta3, LLC.

Team Delta3 will essentially offer a premier business boot camp, taking on the task of educating business owners on best practices for success with a focus on the three key ways to grow their businesses.

In a statement, Cochran explained, “For over four decades I have watched business owners who are very good at their respective craft, struggle to be successful.”

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He is the president of CK Business Solutions, PC, a consulting and accounting firm headquartered in Albertville.

Roughly 20 years ago, Cochran changed his focus from delivering traditional business, tax and accounting advice to one of helping business owners find solutions to everyday problems. His passion for helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses, develop repeatable processes and face the modern-day challenges in an increasingly competitive world has led him to be a part of an elite group of business advisors.

“Many universities, small business incubators and consultants have tried various ways to help businesses grow,” Cochran outlined. “Our approach at Team Delta3 is to take proven techniques and present them in a concentrated, focused ‘Boot Camp’ style environment so that each participant leaves with the tangible game plan needed to grow their business into a thriving enterprise.”

Beyond his own successful advisory businesses, Cochran has been recognized by a number of organizations for his leadership and civic contributions.

He is a board member of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) and previously served on its executive committee. Currently, Cochran is a member of the 30th (XXX) class of Leadership Alabama, chairman of the board of the Albertville Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the board of his church, founding chairman of the Albertville City Schools Foundation, board member of the North Central Alabama Girl Scouts and in 2002 received the Citizen of the Year Award the highest award given for community service in his hometown. He also holds the designations of CPA and CMGA.

However, the impressive involvement does not end at the Alabama state line for Cochran.

Later this month, he will be a VIP at the Living Legends event in New York City.

Living Legends brings together the top business consultants in the United States to exchange ideas and develop a nationwide network of renowned consultants in marketing, internet sales, branding, growth and general business. These include people such as Martha Stewart, Michael Gerber and Clint Arthur.

As a VIP, Cochran will be internationally recognized for his skills and contribution to business clients throughout the course of his career.

“For someone who calls Sand Mountain home, having the opportunity to be a part of an event as large in scope as Living Legends is an incredible honor. I look forward to integrating concepts and collaborators from Living Legends into the new venture of Team Delta3 and our BootCamp experience,” Cochran concluded.

“BootCamp” participants can expect intensive training during the course of the three-day event. Concepts related to market growth, key performance indicators and applied metrics will be developed for each business. These indicators will be the drivers that provide owners measurable results.

Find out more here.

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

11 hours ago

Bradley Byrne previews attacks that are sure to come against Tommy Tuberville

Former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville is the frontrunner in the GOP primary race for the right to take on United States Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) but eventually, the attacks will come.

U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) may have been showing how Tuberville’s opponents are going to take him on in the near future at a meeting of the Tennessee Valley Republican Club on Saturday morning.

Byrne touched on the carpetbagger allegation without mention Tuberville, saying, “I’m from here, not from wherever else. I love Alabama and know what we need to get done.”

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Later he added, “I didn’t come back here to run because it’s convenient. I love this state and I love fighting for Alabama. And that’s exactly what you’ll get with me – a fighter.”

This is hardly a new tact for Tuberville’s detractors, and it may be effective because Alabama is a very proud state that loves its homegrown products.

Byrne further questioned Tuberville’s reason for running.

I’m not running for this seat because I got bored and needed something to do,” he said while touting his service to Alabama. “I’ve spent most of my life serving. I want to help the people of this great state.”

But it wasn’t all attacks for Byrne on Saturday morning. The congressman also touted his experience in Washington as the most important for Alabamians to support his candidacy.

“It’s more about being able to sit in a room and get things done for your state. I know how to do that, and I’ll be able to keep getting things done for Alabama,” he explained.

Byrne would mention the Space Force command and praise North Alabama as the perfect place for it while adding, “There is nowhere in the country better equipped for it, and as your senator, I’ll continue to fight every day to see that we get things like this done.”

How an argument about experience and effectiveness works in 2020, and in the era of Trump, remains to be seen.

What is clear, is that the issues Byrne is talking about on the campaign trail now will continue to be heard as long as Tommy Tuberville is an untraditional and inexperienced candidate with an apparent lead in the polls.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

12 hours ago

Tuberville: Alabamians ‘trust football coaches a heck of a lot more than they trust politicians’

Former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, a 2020 Republican U.S. Senate candidate in the Yellowhammer State, on Monday appeared on Fox Business’ “Varney & Co.” to discuss his support of President Donald Trump and the state of the race to unseat Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

Tuberville reiterated his belief that “President Trump has saved this country.”

He said he was unsure who the president will support in Alabama’s GOP senatorial primary, if anyone, but emphasized Trump’s support “goes a long way in the state.”

Tuberville also reaffirmed that he will not take his salary if elected to the U.S. Senate.

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“[W]e’ve got to get away from the career politicians,” Tuberville remarked. “I’m not an establishment [candidate], I don’t owe anybody anything. I’m not taking a salary. I want to do it for the right reasons.”

The guest host then asked the former college football coach if his ties to Auburn might dissuade some Crimson Tide fans from voting for him.

“You know, before I decided to run, I did my due diligence,” Tuberville responded. “I went across the state talking to people about this.”

“And you know, at the end of the day, the people of Alabama — they trust football coaches a heck of a lot more than they trust politicians,” he continued. “So, I’m going to get as many (University of) Alabama votes. I’m going to get Auburn votes.”

“We need something strong, you know. We need people who make decisions for the right reasons. And they trust football coaches in this state, I promise you that,” Tuberville concluded.

Watch:

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

12 hours ago

Mondays for Moms: Let them be little

Let them be little

I was rocking my littlest one to sleep this weekend when out-of-the-blue stressful thoughts began savagely invading my somewhat peaceful brain …

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What about those dishes, Erin? You forgot to clean the kitchen table after lunch.

When are you ever gonna get to all those baskets of laundry that are piling up like garbage piles on trash day? 

And how about those windows that have prehistoric fingerprints on them from when the babies were just that … babies … ahhh!

Then, my little girl’s hand gently stroked my arm. She had no clue that her simple gesture soothed her over-stressed momma instantly.

Today, I am rocking my little girl comfortably in our glider tucked away from the crazies of the real world. But, one day I’ll be rocking nervously back and forth in my bed waiting to see the lights from her car pour onto my comforter signaling she has made it home safely once again.

Today, I am cutting the edges off of my toddler’s toast to make sure she enjoys every bite. But, one day, I’ll be desperately avoiding cutting the “helicopter mommy” cord on her wedding day wishing more than anything to be “slaving away” on the heart-shaped PB&Js in the kitchen again.

Today, I am hoping she doesn’t scream “mommy” one more time while I hide under the dining room table searching for any amount of sanity that might be miraculously hidden under there. But, tomorrow, I will be giving any amount of money to hear her say my name each time a need arises in her precious adult life.

Today, I am folding her sheets and towels only to discover her playing hide and seek tucked deep in the laundry basket among all the dryer sheets and warmth. But, one day, I’ll be reluctantly walking the aisles at Target with her shopping for dorm linens, shower shoes and bath caddies.

Today, I am reading her bedtime stories and singing soft little tunes as I have the privilege of tucking her in. But, one day, I’ll be reading her name on a graduation pamphlet and fighting back tears as I sing hymns of congratulatory praise for her accomplishments.

So the laundry, the dishes and the tidying can take a seat. All those chores can be done when I get around to it … whenever that may be.

Because right now, I’m gonna let her be little. And soak up every last minute of it.

To receive encouragement and read more about thriving rather than simply surviving in motherhood, check out Erin’s book, Cheers the Diaper Years: 10 Truths for Thriving While Barely Surviving here.