Songbird Ecologist, Author to Deliver Earth Day Keynote

J. Drew Lanham's environmental writing praised as opening 'whole new worlds'

J. Drew Lanham

OXFORD, Miss. – Songbird ecologist and award-winning author and poet J. Drew Lanham is the University of Mississippi‘s 2019 Earth Day keynote speaker. Lanham will discuss “Head to Heart – Creatively Writing the Bridge Between Science and Art,” at 7 p.m. April 24 in Weems Auditorium at the Khayat Law Center.

Lanham’s own life experiences greatly influence his literary work. 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.

“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 university’s environmental studies minor.

In his memoir “The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature,” Lanham looks closely at the intersections of conservation work and the African-American land ethic, which refers to how African-Americans relate to land, and ways that relationship is influenced by history and culture.

This publication received the Reed Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Southern Book Prize. It also was a finalist for the John Burroughs Medal.

Lanham is an alumni distinguished professor of wildlife ecology and master teacher at Clemson University. He 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 on the boards of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the American Birding Association.

“(Lanham) is both an excellent biologist and a great writer, with a talent for connecting to broad audiences,” said Jason Hoeksema, UM professor of biology and member of the environmental studies minor’s core faculty. “I’m sure his message for Earth Day will be really inspiring for a broad cross-section of our campus community, regardless of expertise.”

Lanham’s essays and poetry have been published in Orion, Audubon, Flycatcher and Wilderness. He published “Sparrow Envy,” a collection of poetry, in 2016 and has garnered acclaim for an essay titled “Nine Rules for the Black Birdwatcher,” in which he lays out 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,” Fisher-Wirth said. “We are so lucky to have him as this year’s Earth Day speaker.”

Green Week is the Ole Miss celebration of the environment and the sustainability efforts taking place on campus and in the Oxford community. This year’s Green Week runs April 20-26.

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 events, visit