Vanderbilt Magazine

WATCH: Author and ‘New York Times’ columnist Margaret Renkl, fellow writers discuss changes in Nashville and the South

Author and New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl joined Vanderbilt University Press authors Rachel Martin and Steve Haruch and former Nashville mayor and adjunct professor Bill Purcell on Nov. 9 to discuss the evolution of Nashville and the American South.

The virtual event, “Nashville Through the Decades,” was hosted by the Chancellor’s Lecture Series in partnership with Vanderbilt University Press. The panelists talked about Nashville being a city with social issues and growing pains akin to many cities across the country.

“Nashville is interesting to The New York Times because of what Nashville is an emblem of,” said Renkl, author of Graceland, At Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache from the American South. “We are, in some ways, a microcosm for the divide that exists across the country—the divide between progressives and conservatives, the divide between the urban and the rural.”

In their discussion, the panelists talk about the specific issues facing Nashville and the South as the region continues to grow and what that means for an increasingly diverse population.

Watch the full event here.


Margaret Renkl is the author of Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, which was published in July 2019. She is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South. Her latest book is Graceland, At Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South.

Rachel Martin is a writer and public intellectual. Her book Hot, Hot Chicken: A Nashville Story recounts the history of Nashville’s Black communities through the story of its hot chicken scene from the Civil War, when Nashville became a segregated city, through the tornado that ripped through North Nashville in March 2020.

Steve Haruch is a writer, editor and filmmaker based in Nashville. His book is Greetings from New Nashville: How a “Sleepy” Southern Town Became “It City.”


The Chancellor’s Lecture Series strives to connect the Vanderbilt community and beyond with leaders and visionaries who are shaping our world.

View previous lecture speakers and videos here.