John Lane: Still Upright & Headed Downstream

John Lane meets memory lane as he begins to rewind and recall wandering water-ward to wade in creeks and walk in woods near his childhood home. Having “always been drawn to watery places,” the current has never stopped turning, and Lane never stopped churning out the observations of his view from mid-stream. It’s from that body of watery work that his compilation ‘Still Upright & Headed Downstream: Collected River Writing’ was born.

Photo / John E. Lane

There are nature writers, and travel writers, and people with a sense of place they bring to readers, but Lane has always drifted, pun quite intended, to the words that come floating in on the waves. He has a way of getting his reader’s boat in the literary water and setting off around the bend. “A master of combining moments of thrill and meditation, environmental ugliness, and natural beauty,” one reviewer intones, “he’s at home in a world where down is up and up is down,” perfect for a kayaker in the gently winding rivers and tides of the coastal southeast.

Originally from the “hilly reaches” of Piedmont, SC, and a professor at nearby Wofford college for over three decades, Lane’s love of the south is tied to how it keeps “the woods and water always close by.”

Lane’s vision for ongoing impact has manifested in programs like Thinking Like a River (which received a Cargill grant) born of a desire for all the school’s majors to spend time on rivers.

Lane’s writing carries a legacy, and his impact in the classroom is a triple threat of writers, readers, and environmentalist artists. He notes, “I just got a literary anthology in the mail and in it is an essay by one of my former students—she learned her passion for the environment and place in my classes. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Aptly titled, his latest release ‘Still Upright’ was born from an over-abundance of “paddling material” (essays, poems, journals) that he wanted to contain and make available, to engage readers to “explore the streams and rivers near their own homes. And keep their own accounts too!”

He’s practicing what he preaches, still writing as he rows, with ‘Coming into Animal Presence’ just out from Mercer Publishing and UGA Press bringing out his memoir in the fall of 2023 – ‘Gullies of my People,’ which tells the story of his family’s many generations as tenant farmers and mill workers in South Carolina. Two more titles are slated for 2024.

Prolific? Yes. He rightly calls it, “a river of words.”

Proud Mary, keep on rollin’.

From ‘Why I Love Falling Water:’ “I leaned out instead of fearing for my balance, caught the river headed for the sea and floated with it. The strokes, so foreign at one time, seemed part of my arms, back and waist. The paddle was my extended hands; the boat, my body.”

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