Songbird Ecologist and Author J Drew Lanham to Deliver UM Earth Day Keynote

Written by Kendall McDonald

Drew J Lanham, alongside the cover art of his book, "The Home Place." Cover art features a silhouette of a bird, referencing his work as an ornithologist.

Songbird ecologist and award-winning author and poet J Drew Lanham is the University of Mississippi’s 2019 Earth Day keynote speaker. Lanham will deliver his address, “Head to Heart- Creatively Writing the Bridge Between Science and Art,” on April 24 at 7pm in Weems Auditorium, located in the UM Law School.

Dr. Lanham’s own life experiences greatly influence his literary work; as a South Carolina native, he writes of growing up in the South as a person of color and of his work in a field historically lacking in diversity. In The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, Dr. Lanham looks closely at the intersections of conservation work and the African American land ethic–meaning how African Americans relate to land, and how that relationship is impacted by history and culture. This publication received the Reed Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Southern Book Prize, and was also a finalist for the John Burroughs Medal.

“A highly acclaimed ornithologist and amazing photographer, Drew Lanham is also the best kind of creative nonfiction writer: one whose words open whole new worlds,” said Ann Fisher-Wirth, professor of English and the director of the Environmental Studies Minor.

Lanham is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University. He also is an active board member for the National Audubon Society, Audubon South Carolina, BirdNote and the American Birding Association, and is a member of the advisory board for the North American Association of Environmental Education. He has served previously on the boards of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, the Aldo Leopold Foundation, and the American Birding Association.

“I am really excited for our campus to host the visit by Dr. Drew Lanham. He is both an excellent biologist and a great writer, with a talent for connecting to broad audiences,” said Jason Hoeksema, professor of biology. “I’m sure his message for Earth Day will be really inspiring for a broad cross-section of our campus community, regardless of expertise.”

Dr. Lanham’s essays and poetry have been published in Orion, Audubon, Flycatcher, and Wilderness. He published a collection of poetry in 2016 titled Sparrow Envy. He has received wide acclaim for an essay titled “Nine Rules for the Black Birdwatcher,” in which he lays out some of the specific considerations for the black birdwatching community, highlighting obstacles to inclusion in outdoor recreation for audiences of color.

“His work is at the forefront of American environmental writing today. We are so lucky to have him as this year’s Earth Day speaker,” Fisher-Wirth added.

Green Week is the University of Mississippi’s celebration of the environment and the sustainability efforts taking place on campus and in the Oxford community. This year’s Green Week begins on Saturday, April 20th and ends on Friday, April 26th.

The Earth Day Keynote Address is hosted by the UM environmental studies minor with support from the Office of Sustainability. All Green Week events are free and open to the public. For more information about the Earth Day Keynote and other Green Week events, go to

The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature can be purchased at Square Books in Oxford.

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