NC Literary Hall of Fame



The Only Sounds We Make by Lee Zacharias

Hub City Press
$16.95, paperback / $9.99, e-book
ISBN: 978-1-938235009
May, 2014
Memoir / Essays
Available at your local bookstore or

"In Lee Zacharias' elegant and varied essay collection, we enter a world where memory's soundtrack plays quietly beneath every landscape, event, and portrait. Though hers is a life 'coded' by sound, these essays showcase her training in photography. Even in the darkest rooms of this book—black widow spiders, vultures, a father killed by his own hand, a mother 'no daughter could have cherished…enough'—there is light to read by. 'What breaks my heart,' Zacharias writes of her beloved dog Ollie, who literally eats the author's past by chowing down on photo albums and other memorabilia, is 'the beauty of his attention.' Of this essayist's many gifts, perhaps her greatest is the beauty of her attention. Reading The Only Sounds We Make, we lucky readers learn, as the essayist has learned, 'how to read light.'"
—Rebecca McClanahan, author of The Tribal Knot and The Riddle Song

"Poised on nothing but the air of memory and love, Lee Zacharias' The Only Sounds We Make is a stunning safari of a collection, spanning three generations of family, moving us cross-country, from land to water to land, surveying the damages of culture, the gifts of light and language, the miracles of the individual mind. Zacharias pitches her tent at the crossroads of the natural world and the moral universe, and what she gives us is observation and insight to match the best of Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, and Diane Ackerman. You cannot hold these stories in your hand. They are at once too heavy and too light. But at daybreak, opening the flap of your tent, you might catch the poet's vision for Zacharias has given hers flight."
—Elaine Neil Orr, author of A Different Sun

The Only Sounds We Make is a memoir in the form of personal essays that is deeply concerned with the way language, image, and memory give a life coherence and meaning. Fascinated by the natural world, Zacharias turns to creatures whose language we cannot fathom, from spiders to vultures to dogs, and the mute record of the land through time, to discover what those powers mean. These thirteen deeply metaphorical essays are both intensely personal and vitally concerned with the larger world, including the kingdom beyond our ken. Exploring subjects as diverse as her father's suicide, the great migration that changed the racial composition of Chicago's South Side, the nature of light, and the geology of the Grand Canyon, Zacharias writes with grace, precision, and candor about the experiences that shape our humanity and our relationships, to our parents, to our children, and to past, present, and future.

Lee Zacharias was born in Chicago. A graduate of Indiana University, Hollins College, and the University of Arkansas, she has taught at Princeton University and the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where for a decade she edited The Greensboro Review. She has held writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council. Her first novel, Lessons, won North Carolina's Sir Walter Raleigh Award, her second novel, At Random, was a finalist in literary fiction for both the 2013 International Book Award and the 2013 National Indie Excellence Award, and her nonfiction, which has appeared in such journals as Shenandoah, The Southern Review, and The Gettysburg Review, has been reprinted in The Best American Essays. She is a photographer as well as the author of three books of fiction.

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