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Outside/In Book Club: Trace by Lauret Savoy

Kris Bergbom
Geologist and writer Lauret Savoy

The very first Outside/In book club, featuring a conversation with geologist and writer Lauret Savoy.

Lauret Savoy considers fossil hunting and historical inquiry to be versions of the same pursuit. In Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, Savoy uses the search for her family story as a lens to better understand American history, and the landscape as a lens to better understand her past.

“I define geology, or geo logo -- that's from the Greek for “understanding Earth” — I define it much more broadly than scientists do,” said Savoy. “For me, my writing in Trace is a form of doing geology: that is, understanding Earth and our place on it.”

“The science of geology… offers an elemental foundation of place. Yet, it is also an offering of, at least in my view, [a] metaphor for considering the deposition and erosion of human memory and the fragmentation and displacement of human experience. And, for me, race and racism have been key to it all.”

My writing in Trace is a form of doing geology: that is, understanding Earth and our place on it. - Lauret Savoy

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Her memoir is a winding journey from southern California to Puritan New England, from Lake Superior to the U.S.- Mexico Border, and finally to Washington, D.C., where she grew up. For Savoy, identifying the geologic story in the American landscape was often easier than finding answers about her own family.

“Trace. Active search. Path taken. Track or vestige of what once was. These narrative journeys have crossed textured lands seeking both life marks and home. From twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault zone to “Indian Territory,” from Point Sublime to burial grounds, from a South Carolina plantation to the U.S.-Mexico border and U.S. capital. Their confluence articulates--that is, helps me both join together and give clearer expression to--the unvoiced past in my life. Re-membering is an alternative to extinction.

Home indeed lies among the ruins and shards that surround us all.”

- Excerpt of Trace

The title of the book functions as both a noun and a verb: trace as artifact, and as an act of exploring, or tracing, history.

“I hope that Trace [can] counter what are some of our oldest and most damaging public silences by revealing often unrecognized ties, such as the siting of the nation's capital and the economic motives of slavery,” said Savoy. 

“None of these ties is coincidental. Too few of them appear in public history. Yet they all touch us.” 

Announcing the next Outside/In Book Club read

Our next pick is Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age by Annalee Newitz. Look for that episode in late summer.

We want to see you reading your books! Share a picture of yourself #ReadingOutsideIn, and don’t forget to tag us @OutsideInRadio on Twitter and Instagram. Plus, if you’ve got a thought about Trace or a question for Annalee Newitz, send ‘em our way!

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