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Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape

List Price: $16.95

October 11, 2016 | Paperback  | 5.5 x 8.25, 240 pages | ISBN 9781619028258
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“I stand in awe of Lauret Savoy's wisdom and compassionate intelligence. Trace is a crucial book for our time, a bound sanity, not a forgiveness, but a reckoning.” —Terry Tempest Williams, author of Refuge

Sand and stone are Earth’s fragmented memory. Each of us, too, is a landscape inscribed by memory and loss. One life-defining lesson Lauret Savoy learned as a young girl was this: the American land did not hate. As an educator and Earth historian, she has tracked the continent’s past from the relics of deep time; but the paths of ancestors toward her—paths of free and enslaved Africans, colonists from Europe, and peoples indigenous to this land—lie largely eroded and lost.

In this provocative and powerful mosaic of personal journeys and historical inquiry across a continent and time, Savoy explores how the country’s still unfolding history, and ideas of “race,” have marked her and the land. From twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault zone to a South Carolina plantation, from national parks to burial grounds, from “Indian Territory” and the U.S.-Mexico Border to the U.S. capital, Trace grapples with a searing national history to reveal the often unvoiced presence of the past.

In distinctive and illuminating prose that is attentive to the rhythms of language and landscapes, she weaves together human stories of migration, silence, and displacement, as epic as the continent they survey, with uplifted mountains, braided streams, and eroded canyons.

Critically acclaimed, Trace has received the following accolades:

Winner of the ASLE Creative Writing Award
Winner of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation
Finalist for the PEN American Open Book Award
Finalist for the Phillis Wheatley Book Award
Shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing
Shortlisted for the Orion Book Award

LAURET SAVOY is a woman of mixed heritage, and a professor of environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke College, where she explores the intertwinings of natural and cultural histories. She writes about the stories we tell of the origins of the American land and the stories we tell of ourselves in this land. Her books include The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity and the Natural WorldBedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology; and Living with the Changing California Coast. She lives in Leverett, MA. For more information, visit


“…a thoughtful collection of essays by Lauret Savoy… In the process, Savoy raises more questions than she answers, but they are the kind of questions that provoke discussion. This is not a book to be read quickly. Rather, each of the eight essays deserves consideration on its own… [A]n interesting and important work…  [H]er images are often poetic and her personal revelations can be striking… the close read is worth the effort.” —Boston Globe

“Savoy is a geologist at Mount Holyoke, but this sui generis creation, wherein John McPhee meets James Baldwin, dissolves all academic boundaries.” —Vulture (Books You Need to Read this November)

“Savoy’s well-researched account, which includes numerous lyric eyewitness descriptions of place, also delves into recently declassified National Archives records to note how prisoners of war ‘expressed to the nurses their surprise that Americans would fight to preserve democracy abroad and at home exhibit prejudice to other Americans solely because of their skin color.’ Springing from the literal Earth to metaphor, Savoy demonstrates the power of narrative to erase as easily as it reveals, yielding a provocative, eclectic exposé of the palimpsest historically defining the U.S. as much as any natural or man-made boundary.” —Kirkus Starred Review

“In reverential, elegiac prose, Savoy… meditates on the meaning of history and identity as related to place… Savoy’s deep knowledge of the land opens up intriguing new avenues for exploring the multifaceted, tumultuous nature of American identity.” —Publishers Weekly

“What if written history bears no trace of our existence, our contribution to the land? What do these silences speak of and bear witness to? Savoy’s illuminating treatise teases apart these questions as she traces her family’s African African heritage… As she assuredly shows, these silences can be telling, reminding us to watch for bias, and that when it comes to interpreting history, the viewing lens is almost as important as the narrative.” —Booklist

“Savoy’s immersive, accessible, and evocative narrative interweaves questions of morality, social justice, and stewardship of the land we call home with discussions of history and the American landscape and will interest readers of history, social science, and earth science.” —Library Journal

“This book is a brilliant and unique musing on American history and landscape. Lauret Savoy is a mixed race woman and professor of geology and environmental studies. Her search for family ancestors leads her to many landscapes, including the borderlands of the southwest, the Piedmont, the Grand Canyon, Lake Superior, Washington DC, and her birthplace in California. Inevitably the role of race in American history is part of her family’s history. Savoy details the inaccuracies, silences, and omissions throughout American history, including the Black Codes in Washington D.C. and South Carolina, land grabs from Mexico and Native peoples, segregation at Fort Huachuca, and the disappearance of African American towns in Oklahoma. An important book as we struggle to understand and overcome the wrongs of American history and the impact on our current lives.” —Joan Grenier, Odyssey Books (South Hadley, MA)

“Lauret Savoy’s Trace may be the most relevant book published this fall. This lyrical and sweeping essay on race, memory, and the American landscape covers ground sadly neglected in much nature writing. Its ethical argument — that the way we treat the environment is inextricable from how we treat our fellow human beings (and vice versa) — is one we should all pay close attention to, now more than ever.” —Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books (San Francisco, CA)

Trace is must-reading for anyone who cares still about life on earth right here and now. Heaven help those who follow.In her contemplative, book-length essay, Lauret Savoy locates, relocates and celebrates the majesty of America’s natural go-to landscapes. A rigorous editor and scholar, Savoy looks closely at official grandeur, while she sifts through traces of history that come with any territory so-named. Lauret Savoy’s Trace cuts more than one gleaming, sharp-toothed key to help unlock some of the hard questions that challenge and haunt the environmental and climate-change movements.” —Al Young, former Poet Laureate of California

“How does one find a home among ruins and shards? That might be the question that leads Lauret Savoy to follow traces of life’s past in landscapes, rivers, fossils and graveyards as she works to undo the silences of our nation’s wounded history. As an Earth historian, she reads the land with an informed eye. As a woman of mixed heritage, she reads into the land the lives of enslaved laborers and displaced tribes. This is a work of conscience and moral conviction. Reading it I understood how the land holds the memory of our history and how necessary it is to listen to its many voices.” —Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit

“Lauret Savoy’s Trace is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read in a long time, a book about landmarks — how the land is marked — that in itself may be something of a landmark. With searching, smart, arrestingly beautiful writing, she tells stories of places, their names, their layers, and the ways history covers, alters, shifts the stories of people within them. That she does so bringing race and ethnicity into it makes this an even more singular, vital, necessary book. Writing of her own family mysteries and wayfaring within larger racial, social, and cultural contexts in a way that is, at once, intimate and personal, and larger and more universal, Lauret Savoy has given us an invaluable work of better knowing our past, seeing our present, imagining our future.” —Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, WA)

“We have waited a very long time for Trace by Lauret Savoy. Too long. Her words are a stunning excavation and revelation of race, identity, and the American landscape. I have never read a more beautiful, smart, and vulnerable accounting of how we are shaped by memory in place. This braiding of personal history with geology and the systematic erasure of “Other” in pursuit of Manifest Destiny is a stratigraphy of conscience and consciousness. What Lauret Savoy creates on the page is as breathtaking as the view she saw as a child as she stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon with her parents and learned land does not hate, people do. I stand in awe of Lauret Savoy’s wisdom and compassionate intelligence. Trace is a crucial book for our time, a bound sanity, not a forgiveness, but a reckoning.” —Terry Tempest Williams, author of Refuge

“With a voice that is both lyrical and authoritative, this important illuminating book might be thought of as a map, or a group of maps laid out edge to edge… This is a book that will promote and help shape our nation’s urgent conversation bout race.” —John Elder, author of Pilgrimage to Vallombrosa: From Vermont to Italy in the Footsteps of George Perkins Marsh

“The personal manner and historical scenes are concise, explicit, and marvelous… the gentle deconstruction of the historical sources is truly moving, potent, and convincing.” —Gerald Vizenor, author of Favor of Crows: New and Collected Haiku

“Lauret Savoy’s writing reveals both the pain and the hope located in landscape, place, and name. It is a wonderfully powerful and deeply personal exploration of herself, through this American landscape.” —Julian Agyeman, author of Sharing Cities: A Case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities

“The narrator is an engaging figure, sharing with us her process of discovery, conveying her indignation without stridency (although stridency would have been justified), tracing her research, acknowledging her uncertainties, suggesting why this quest matters so deeply to herself and why it should matter to us.” —Scott Russell Sanders, author of Divine Animal

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