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Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape

January 28, 2021, 12:00–1:30 p.m. ET on Zoom | Lauret Savoy

Free register of Fenton Mann, Essex County, VA, 1819
Free register of Fenton Mann, Essex County, VA, 1819. Shortly after the American Revolution, Virginia required free people of color to register and carry proof of their right to freedom at all times. The underlying assumption of status: a “colored person” was enslaved unless determined otherwise.

Sand and stone are Earth’s fragmented memory. Each of us is also a landscape inscribed by memory and loss. Lauret Savoy’s Trace interweaves journeys and historical inquiry across a continent and time to explore how this country’s still-unfolding history has marked the land, this society, and her. 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 US–Mexico border to the US capital, Trace grapples with a searing national history to reveal the often-unvoiced presence of the past. Savoy will offer elements from this book and introduce her current writing project on the Chesapeake region. The new work braids histories of the land and of “race” via her search for ancestors, who were free and enslaved Africans, colonists from Europe, and Indigenous peoples. Their stories are entangled with the rise and fall of tobacco agriculture and the origin and growth of the capital city along the Potomac River. Savoy delves through fragmented histories—geological, personal, cultural—to find shadowy outlines of other stories of place in America. She asks, what is your relationship with history, told and untold, on this land?

Tracing memory threads Lauret Edith Savoy’s life and work: unearthing what is buried, re-membering what is fragmented, shattered, eroded. A woman of African American, Euro-American, and Native American heritage, she writes about the stories we tell of the American land’s origins and the stories we tell of ourselves in this land. Her books include Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape; The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity and the Natural World; Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology; and Living with the Changing California CoastTrace won the 2016 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation and the 2017 ASLE Creative Writing Award. Described as a “sui generis creation, wherein John McPhee meets James Baldwin,” Trace was also a finalist for the 2016 PEN American Open Book Award and Phillis Wheatley Book Award, and was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and Orion Book Award. Savoy is the David B. Truman Professor of Environmental Studies and Geology at Mount Holyoke College, a photographer, and pilot. Winner of Mount Holyoke’s Distinguished Teaching Award and an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, she has also held fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution and Yale University. Savoy is also a fellow of the Geological Society of America.