Author Janisse Ray speaks at quarterly event
Since 2014, the Georgia Writers Museum, located on North Jefferson Avenue, has served as a cultural hub and place of historic preservation for the Lake Country’s (and Georgia’s) rich literary heritage.
The Museum is home to the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame display and hosts a quarterly “Meet the Author” event, where audience members have the opportunity to listen to, interact with and ask questions to some of our state’s most prominent and influential writers and authors.
On Sunday, Aug. 12, a full house of interested guests converged on the museum to attend the latest of such events and to meet well-known Georgia writer, poet and environmental activist, Janisse Ray.
Ray was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2015 after her first book, “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood,” gained wide-spread notoriety, winning the American Book Award and the Southern Environmental Law Center Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment, among other awards. It was named by the Georgia Center for the Book as a “book that all Georgians should read.”
“Ecology of a Cracker Childhood” is a memoir of Ray’s young life growing up in the middle of her father’s junkyard in Baxley. Beset by family members who suffered from mental illness, alcoholism and poverty, Ray recounts the tragedy and the beauty of her upbringing. The book is also somewhat of a social history, explaining the settling of that region by Scot/Irish immigrants and the commonly misunderstood “cracker” culture.
The book is also half ecological survey of the natural surroundings Ray grew up with, the now quickly disappearing native longleaf pine forest. Every other chapter tells the natural history of the longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem—an environment which once covered over half of Georgia’s coastal plain. It was home to highly-specialized and unique flora and fauna, but now is nearly 99 percent extirpated due to development, industrial agriculture practices and the control of natural wildfires.
Since writing and releasing “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood,” Ray has published five other books in the genre of creative nonfiction, all of which are memoir-like, showcasing her knowledge of the land surrounding the Altamaha River basin, where she was raised and still resides. She has also published a collection of “eco-poetry” called “A House of Branches.”
All of her literary work seems to highlight her love for, and drive to maintain, the natural settings and cultural history in which she was born and raised.
Sharing a Wallace Stegner quote in her opening, “Tell me where you’re from, and I’ll tell you who you are,” Ray said she believes that “writers arise form a place—to tell the story of that place.”
“The longleaf pine forest once encompassed 93 million acres from Virginia to Texas across the southern coastal plain,” she said, “if we have allowed 99 percent of this environment, which has helped to sustain us, to disappear, what kind of doom does that spell for us?”
Ray went on to share with the audience an unpublished short story she had recently written called “Just Like a Mule.” The story was a humorous tale, set on Ray’s family farm in Tattnall County, about trying to move around a stubborn mule. Despite the work of Ray, her husband and daughter, the mule refused to traverse a set of stairs and so had to be escorted through the family’s home.
As audience members laughed in delight, Ray noted that she never imagined having an animal that large in her house.
At the end of her reading, Ray answered questions from the audience, discussed her views on local activism and environmental protection, and signed books.
A brief reception ensued with all organic Georgia-grown refreshments which were provided by Farmview Market in Madison.
For more information on the Georgia Writers Museum and Meet the Author events, visit their website at https://www.georgiawritersmuseum.com/ or visit and like its Facebook page.