The writings of Janisse Ray exalt and defend the wild areas of America, most especially her native south Georgia—its forests, swamps and rivers.
A naturalist, poet and essayist, Ray combines lyrical passion and scientific precision in her writings, in which she bears witness on behalf of the wilderness, the people and the wildlife that fill her experience of the world. Since her acclaimed debut memoir, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (1999), Ray’s writing has received numerous regional and national awards.
Born and reared in rural Appling County, Georgia, Ray attended high school in Baxley and went to North Georgia College in Dahlonega before transferring to Florida State University, where she earned a degree in English. She then worked as an organic farmer in north Florida and later went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Montana’s creative writing workshop, where her poetry chapbook, Naming the Unseen, won the 1996 Merriam-Frontier award.
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (1999) recalls and reflects upon Ray’s experience growing up on a South Georgia junkyard in the devastated longleaf pine forest land of the Southeast. Among memories of rural isolation, family tension and poverty, Ray voices a love and concern for Georgia’s once-glorious pine flatwoods, which have been ruined by commerce and development.
Ray’s second book, Wild Card Quilt: Taking a Chance on Home (2003), recounts her return to her native Appling County after a seventeen-year absence, a single mother looking to rebuild her grandmother’s farm in the rural community that she left after high school. Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land (2005) is a lyrical mix of poetry and reflection that tells the story of a humble swamp in south Georgia, its inhabitants, its environmental fragmentation and subsequent restoration.
Drifting into Darien: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River (2011) is an ecological history of the 137-mile-long river, interwoven with Ray’s personal recollections of the river and a diary of a rafting journey from the Altamaha’s headwaters to its Atlantic Ocean basin at Darien in McIntosh County. In The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food (2012), Ray argues for local-food farming, mixing botanical science with the stories of her fellow “seed-savers,” and she describes how her own personal childhood obsession with farming led to the creation of a sustainable farm in Tattnall County, in the delta of the Altamaha and Ohoopee rivers.
In addition to her five books of nonfiction, Ray has published a volume of her collected poetry, A House of Branches, in 2010.
Ray’s writings have been published widely in journals and magazines such as Studies in American Culture, The Georgia Review, Orion, Natural History, Wilderness, Audubon, Sierra, and Georgia Wildlife.
Frequently anthologized, Ray is also the editor of In One Place: The Natural History of a Georgia Farmer by Milton Hopkins (2001), and Moody Forest (2008), an anthology of collected local stories about a Georgia preserve. She also co-edited two books of writings about Florida’s wilderness, UnspOILed: Writers Speak for Florida's Coast and Between Two Rivers: Stories from the Red Hills to the Gulf.
She has won a Southern Booksellers Award for Poetry (2011), Southeastern Booksellers Award for Nonfiction (1999), an American Book Award (2000), the Southern Environmental Law Center 2000 Award for Outstanding Writing, and a Southern Book Critics Circle Award (2000). Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and Pinhook each have been chosen as “Books All Georgians Should Read” by the Georgia Center for the Book.
A community organizer, environmentalist, and political activist as well as an author, Ray lectures nationally on nature, community, agriculture, wildness, sustainability and the politics of wholeness.
Photo of Janisse Ray by Raven Waters, used with permission.
The following titles by Janisse Ray are held by the Hargrett Library:
Naming the Unseen: Poems. Missoula: University of Montana, 1996.
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1999.
In One Place: The Natural History of a Georgia Farmer. By Milton Hopkins, with an introduction by Janisse Ray. St Simons Island: Saltmarsh Press, 2001.
Wild Card Quilt: Taking a Chance on Home. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2003.
Between Two Rivers: Stories from the Red Hills to the Gulf. Tallahassee, Fla.: Red Hills Writers Project, 2004.
Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green, 2005.
Moody Forest. Edited by Janisse Ray. Baxley, Ga.: Wildfire Press, 2007.
A House of Branches: Poems. Nicholasville: Wind Publications, 2010.
Drifting into Darien: A Personal & Natural History of the Altamaha River. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.
The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green, 2012.
Ceux Qui Sement: Graines de Resistance [The Seed Underground. French.].Tampere, Finland: Seepia, 2014.
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood: 15th Anniversary Edition. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2015
The University of Georgia's Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds Janisse Ray's papers, including manuscripts of work, correspondence and printed material regarding her writings.