J. Drew Lanham is a 2022 MacArthur 'Genius' Grant Recipient

October 12th 2022

J. Drew Lanham, bird watcher, naturalist, hunter-conservationist, poet, and Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University, has been named one of this year’s 25 MacArthur ‘genius’ grant recipients. We are beyond thrilled to see this well-deserved recognition!

In addition to the MacArthur nod, Lanham is the Poet Laureate of Edgefield, South Carolina and received an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship in 2022. Other awards include the Dan W. Lufkin Prize for Environmental Leadership (National Audubon Society), the Rosa Parks and Grace Lee Boggs Outstanding Service Award (North American Association for Environmental Education), and the E. O. Wilson Award for Outstanding Science in Biodiversity Conservation (Center for Biological Diversity). Most recently, he was awarded the Rowland P. Alston Sr. ‘42 Award for Excellence in Communication Award from Clemson, and the Tommy Wyche Conservation Award from Upstate Forever, a South Carolina land conservancy.

In 2021, Hub City Press published Drew’s collection of poetry, Sparrow Envy: Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts and will publish a forthcoming collection, Joy is the Justice We Give Ourselves, in 2024. Drew is also the author of a memoir, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature (Milkweed, 2016).

From the MacArthur Foundation:

Joseph Drew Lanham is an ornithologist, naturalist, writer, and poet combining conservation science with personal, historical, and cultural narratives of nature. Lanham's research and teaching focuses on the impacts of forest management on birds and other wildlife. He brings this ecological knowledge as well as his perspective as a Black man living in the South to bear on his work as a storyteller, poet, and passionate advocate for bird-watching, outdoor recreation, and environmental conservation and stewardship.

Lanham also writes and speaks powerfully on the implicit and overt racism people of color often face when engaging with their natural surroundings. In a 2013 essay, he shared “9 Rules for Black Birdwatchers” based on his own experiences with veiled threats and armed passersby while in the field. He also provides specific ways to bring social justice principles into conservation work. For example, he recently published “9 Rules for the Woke Birdwatcher.” In addition to calling out racism in action, the list includes such recommendations such as adopting Harriett Tubman (who used an owl call to identify herself) rather than James Audubon as a bird-loving inspiration and renaming birds that are named after slave owners. Lanham bridges the arts and sciences to create a new model of conservation and care for nature that includes space for diverse perspectives.

Read about all of the 2022 Fellows and watch an introductory video here. Watch Drew talk about his work here.


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