‘That Lean and Hungry Look’ of immortality

“I take my hat off to those contemporary writers who manage again and again to crack the college anthology market. [Suzanne Britt‘s] name will be instantly recognizable to anyone who teaches English 101 as the author of ‘That Lean and Hungry Look,’ the comic comparison of fat people and skinny people that can be found in the compare-contrast section of whatever textbook one happens to be using; ditto for [her] ‘Neat People vs. Sloppy People.’ The author’s bio tells me that Britt teaches English part-time at Meredith College in North Carolina: an adjunct made good!…

“It’s a sweet deal for a writer, to have such ephemera reprinted year after year, thereby hardening into classic work…. Britt could easily have been forgotten completely, but her whimsy lives on, tucked away in a corner of thousands upon thousands of collegiate minds….”

— From “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic” by Professor X (2011)

Professor X (probably not the Marvel Comics superhero by that name who “can project powerful mental bolts of psionic energy enabling him to stun the mind of another being into unconsciousness”) is causing a stir as “an academic hit man” who believes many of his students “have no business being in college.”

The war was over, but death marched on

“Two weeks after the Civil War ended, N. J. Bell, a railroad conductor, enjoyed a layover in Wilmington, North Carolina. A small boy and a little girl who lived on the edge of the railyard came up to him asking for something to eat. He gave them whatever bread and meat they could carry away. The children were very thankful. Their father had been killed during the war, and both their mother and grandmother were sick. Bell returned to Wilmington two months later. Lounging in the railyard, he inquired about the fate of the boy and girl. He learned that their mother had died and the children had starved to death.”

From “America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation” by David Goldfield (2011)

“America Aflame” receives  smashing praise in tomorrow’s New York Times Book Review, and I’ll soon be posting a Q-and-A with its author, who teaches history at UNC Charlotte.

It’s Literarily Cyber Monday

Literary Map of North Carolina

You’ve got the credit card out and you’re ready to do your holiday shopping. You’ve worked your way down the list. Blender for the margarita lover? Check. Leatherman for the handyman? Check. Wii for the kids? Ok, why not? But what should you buy for the dog-loving reader who can’t stop talking about his Tar Heel roots?

No need to take your hand off the keyboard (Okay, maybe you’ll need to click the mouse). Our colleagues at UNC-G have created a Literary Map of North Carolina (their site includes a few more writers than the map above, produced by the NC English Teachers Association in 1950). The rich, searchable database allows you to search in a host of ways, including the author’s hometown, the towns in which her works are set and the genres in which she writes.

Click on “Adventure Fiction.” Ah, yes, there it is. The perfect gift. John Sergeant Wise’s Diomed: The Life, Travels, and Observations of a Dog, (Truth be told, the book’s author was a Virginian and only a small bit of the plot is set in N.C. But when a Virginian deigns to mention the Tar Heel State we like to note it). Originally published in 1897, Diomed has just been reprinted. You’ll find it at your favorite online book retailer. And when the dog lover gives you a big wet smooch as a thank you for your gift, just remember who should really get the credit (no smooch required).

You’re invited…

The Good Government Man dust jacket

We’ve got a busy week coming up at the North Carolina Collection and we’re hoping you’ll join us for some of our activities.

On Monday (Nov.8), we’ll celebrate the publication of The Good Government Man: Albert Coates and the Early Years of the Institute of Government. Prize-winning North Carolina author Howard Covington has written a fascinating biography of Coates, the founder and first director of the Institute of Government at UNC. The Good Government Man depicts Coates’s striking originality and his sometimes exasperating determination. Among the notable figures making appearances in the book are novelist Thomas Wolfe; U.S. senators Frank Porter Graham and Sam Ervin, Jr.; state supreme court justice Susie Sharp; F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover; and every North Carolina governor from Locke Craig to Terry Sanford.

We’re particularly excited about the book because it’s published by us — the North Carolina Collection. It’s the first in our Coates Leadership Series, books that we plan to release in the coming years that document some of the University’s great leaders.

There’s more on our book release event here.

On Wednesday (Nov. 10), we’ll celebrate North Carolina’s American Indians with several events. As you may know, our state is home to the largest population of Native Americans east of the Mississippi. We’ve assembled a panel of experts to discuss some of the issues affecting American Indians in 21st-century North Carolina. The panel is moderated by Dr. Clara Sue Kidwell, director of UNC’s American Indian Center. Panelists include:
• Thomas N. Belt, Cherokee language instructor, Western Carolina University;
• Edward K. Brooks, attorney and legal counsel to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina;
• Beckee Garris, staff, Catawba Indian National Tribal Historic Office;
• Theda Perdue, Ph.D., Atlanta Distinguished Professor of Southern Culture in UNC’s history department; and
• Gregory A. Richardson, executive director, North Carolina Commission on Indian Affairs.

We’ll also be featuring a demonstration by two Catawba Indian potters. Both events coincide with the opening of our NCC Gallery exhibit “Unearthing Native History: The UNC Catawba Archaeological Project.”

No R.S.V.P. required for either event. Just show up and enjoy.

DOT link dump: A plane, a train, an automobile

— Will World War II bomber pulled from South Carolina lake wind up north of the border?

— Was engineer’s race “to put her in Spencer on time” wrongly blamed for wreck of the Old 97?

— Now this is an irresistible headline:  “Is it true a Cadillac fell off the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge into the river?”?

Weekend link dump: Fog of war, roots of rivalry

Vietnamese-American writer sets latest novel in Boiling Springs, peoples it with Virginia Dare, Wright Brothers and slave poet George Moses Horton.

Fog of war hinders recount of state’s Confederate dead.

— Student paper at N.C. State emphasizes importance of campus history, such as  “old rumors that our rivalry with UNC-Chapel Hill started when UNC students urinated in the old well in Yarborough Square.”

— Ceremony at recently discovered Surry County slave cemetery honors “Bob and Jacob, Melissa and Isabelle and Charles, Sarah and Delsie.”

— Before Rupert Murdoch took over, how many Wall Street Journal stories did you see datelined Cherokee?

Recalling James Baldwin

James Baldwin in Daily Tar Heel

NPR’s Morning Edition today featured North Carolina author and UNC-Chapel Hill professor Randall Kenan discussing James Baldwin. Kenan is the editor of a soon-to-be published volume of Baldwin’s uncollected writing. The book is Kenan’s second work on the writer. He published a young adult biography of Baldwin in 1994.

Listening to the interview with Kenan, I recalled a moment 26 years ago that he and I shared with Baldwin. Kenan and I were undergrads in an African-American literature class taught by J. Lee Greene at UNC-Chapel Hill. Kenan was a star pupil, full of insightful comments. I, on the other hand, was a diligent note taker, hoping the brilliance of Kenan and a few other students would help me better understand such classics as Baldwin’s Go Tell it On the Mountain and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

As I recall, on this particular morning Professor Greene was slow in arriving for class. And, when he finally walked in, he was accompanied by a diminutive and elegantly-dressed African-American man. That man was, of course, James Baldwin.

Sadly, I don’t remember much of what Baldwin said. I do recall being impressed by the preciseness of his speech, the mellifluousness of his voice, the angles of his face and his large eyes. Heck, he might have even lit a cigarette as he stood at the front of the class addressing our questions (the campuswide prohibition on smoking wasn’t in place then). I suspect that Randall Kenan asked a question or two. And I’m sure his memories of that day are a little more vivid than mine.

Baldwin was apparently on campus as the keynote speaker for the university’s Human Rights Week. The Daily Tar Heel reports that the writer spoke to a crowd of 1,500 at Memorial Hall on November 12. According to the paper’s account of the speech, Baldwin addressed head-on the nation’s troubled history of race relations. Here are a few quotes from that speech:

“Who is Sambo? Who is a nigger? Who is Uncle Tom? The question must come up, who is Scarlett O’Hara? What I’m suggesting is that History with a capital H is a creation of the people who think of themselves as white.”

“The people who conquered the North American wilderness were not white before they came here, not before they found me. They were Russian, Turk, Greek and French. But they were not white. They became white out of the bitter necessity to justify their crime.”

“It was not true that I was waiting to be discovered, it was not true that my discovery was by Christians who wanted to save my soul. It’s not true that I came here in chains, the happy darkie; it’s not true that I picked cotton for free out of love.”

“According to me the Civil Rights Movement was one of the last slave insurrections.”

A literary great in my presence and I failed to soak it all in. Thanks to Randall Kenan, then and now, for helping me know Baldwin a little better.

Weekend link dump: Books, bricks, Frying Pan

— North Carolina’s infamously swiped copy of the Declaration of Independence, which rated a chapter in “Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures,” graduates to a whole book in “Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic.” (Coming soon, a major motion picture?)

— UNC Chapel Hill historian Marcie Cohen Ferris and Durham author Eli Evans are among those weighing in on the question “Did Harper Lee Whitewash The Jewish Past?”

— Death noted: Alton Stapleford, creator of Kinston’s CSS Neuse II.

— Controversy over a dormitory at the University of Texas at Austin named for a Klansman recalls a similar issue at Chapel Hill.

— Can’t pass up a chance to mention Frying Pan Shoals, especially when the link includes such comments as “An offshore light that resembles a drill rig is not a prime sale item” and “One of the nice things about living in America is that an average guy like me can take on a half-crazy project like this.”

Dare Stone: Does debunking need debunking?

In the July 2009 North Carolina Historical Review, David La Vere, professor of history at UNC Wilmington, argued for taking seriously the “Dare Stone” found near the Chowan River in 1937:

“Scholars have dismissed the stone as a forgery, but a closer look shows it might well be what it purports to be: a last message from Eleanor Dare and the Lost Colony…. It tells a credible story….”

Now Dram Tree Books in Wilmington has published Dr. La Vere’s  “The Lost Rocks: The Dare Stones and the Unsolved Mystery of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony.”

I asked him whether the stone might yield its secrets to modern forensic science.

“The Stone’s language has been examined many times,” he replied. “I had an Elizabethan scholar look over the language. He went in with the idea to discredit and came away amazed how it all fit Elizabethan English. He was particularly interested in the word ‘salvage’ (for savage) which was used in English (from the Italian word for forest) during only a few years…. The Lost Colony fit in with that period.
“I don’t know when the physical aspect of the stone was examined last. In the 1980s it was looked over, but they found they could not come to any new evidence on it. It still looks like a chisel did it. The problem was that it was ‘corrupted’  from the time it was found — gone over with a wire brush, pencils and nail. New techniques would entail destroying parts of the stone, and Brenau [University, where it resides] doesn’t seem willing to do that.

“So it could be real, or it could be a good fake.”

Paging Sam Spade….

Robert Ruark’s Africa Adventure


We’ve bagged our latest big game. The North Carolina Collection now has the DVD of Robert’s Ruark’s 1954 movie, Africa Adventure. We obtained it from Safari Press which has also reissued several of Ruark’s books. Ruark himself narrates the film, and this brings us about as close to the man as we can get. The running time is just over an hour.