A seminal work that expands how we talk about the natural world and the environment as National Book Critics Circle Criticism finalist Camille T. Dungy diversifies her garden to reflect her heritage.
In Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden, poet and scholar Camille T. Dungy recounts the seven-year odyssey to diversify her garden in the predominately white community of Fort Collins, Colorado. When she moved there in 2013, with her husband and daughter, the community held strict restrictions about what residents could and could not plant in their gardens.
In resistance to the homogenous policies that limited the possibility and wonder that grows from the earth, Dungy employs the various plants, herbs, vegetables, and flowers she grows in her garden as metaphor and treatise for how homogeneity threatens the future of our planet, and why cultivating diverse and intersectional language in our national discourse about the environment is the best means of protecting it.
Definitive and singular, Soil functions at the nexus of nature writing, environmental justice, and prose to encourage you to recognize the relationship between the peoples of the African diaspora and the land on which they live, and to understand that wherever soil rests beneath their feet is home.
“A heartfelt and thoroughly enchanting tribute to family and community. Dungy shows us how to tend a garden, and how to tend a full and fragrant life.” —AIMEE NEZHUKUMATATHIL, NYT Bestselling Author of World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments
“The green of growing things calms me. Plants stabilize me,” Camille Dungy writes in this brilliant and beautiful memoir of her deepening relationship with the earth that necessarily demands she consider questions of family, history, race, nation, and power. Soil demands we witness what erodes or frays or severs the stabilizing roots between us. Let us put our hands in and try to listen.” –Ross Gay, NYT Bestselling Author of The Book of Delights
“Gardening, poetry, motherhood, history—dirty and beautiful, difficult and sublime, the agony of failure, the exhalation of a spring bloom. . . Dungy's poetic ear illuminates her language, whether listing botanical names or reflecting on the tumult of the 2020s. A significant, beautiful, meditative, and wholly down-to-earth memoir with high appeal for book groups and nature lovers.”–BOOKLIST (Starred Review)
“Camille Dungy's SOIL is an instant classic. Provocative, beautifully written, and also wildly informative, this memoir cum manifesto asks us to contemplate our responsibility to our land – and each other. I felt transformed by this graceful and generous book.” –Jami Attenberg, Author of I Came All This Way to Meet You
“With this book Dungy shows, by comparison, how unrooted so many of us are – ecologically, historically, and socially – and makes a poetic case that home is where you know the plants. This poignant, lovely work will make you want to nurture a garden, and all life.” —Ayana Johnson, Co-founder, Urban Ocean Lab
“In Soil, Camille Dungy welcomes us into an abundant, intimate, unfurling space — the exterior landscape of her garden and the interior landscape of her sapience. To dig in the dirt, we learn, is also to dig up and into history, identity, ecology, hope. Dungy shows, by example, how to honor the pain and the possibility of whatever fraught, holy ground we each call home. A deeply life-giving book.” –Katharine Wilkinson, Executive Director of The All We Can Save Project
“Camille Dungy is one of the greatest American writers, period. And Soil is her finest work yet. In prose that is personal, political, urgent, and honest, Dungy lays bare the perils of homogeneity —in our gardens and in our communities—and offers powerful reminders of why diversity—that watered-down, defanged buzzword—matters. Soil is a delicate and resilient exploration of gardening, motherhood, memory, love, and what it means to thrive as a Black woman tending her garden, her family, and her career in a white supremacist ecosystem.” –Kate Schatz, NYT-Bestselling author of Rad American Women A-Z and Do the Work: An Antiracist Activity Book
“We are all of the soil. Whether clay, sand, loam or rocky till, each of us arises from it. Camille Dungy's Soil, is the new ground work for growing an illumination of our ties to to the precious earth lain under our feet. From what suffers to grow in her Rocky Mountain backyard, through sketches of Black folk's ties to seed, furrow, mule and hoe, she digs into our soul solum with an artfully conversational style, that's bound to a personal and conversational vulnerability, which firmly links everything important to us, to the fertility underfoot. Herein, Dungy winds Earth's care into human justice and wildness, then tends the story of connections to nature past, present and to come, upward around an awareness of how root, tendril, blossom, bird and bee, make us who we are. Camille is our perennial flower, bloomed again in Soil.” –J. Drew Lanham, Author of The Home Place -- Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature (Milkweed 2016)
“What an intoxicating book. Dungy’s words smell of rot, roots, and blossoms. She brings proof that incantations for nature can come from a yard in a subdivision, and that a family can turn hard soil into life.” –Craig Childs, Author of House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest
About the Author:
Camille T. Dungy is the author of the essay collection Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has edited three anthologies, including Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Her honors include the 2021 Academy of American Poets Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an and an American Book Award. She is a University Distinguished Professor at Colorado State University.