• Damascus Road

    The Travelers"You drinking that Coca-Cola like you have to be somewhere?"

    The year was 1966. Agnes Miller was nineteen, a majorette in her first year at Buckner County College. She wore a powder-blue shirtdress and a bubbly bouffant in the fashion of Diana Ross and the Supremes. To be a majorette, you had to have nice legs, Agnes's legs were so long they could skip across the Nile. Her hemline was modest. She worked part-time in the college library. Whenever anyone asked Agnes what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would tell him or her automatically that she wanted to be a teacher. It did not matter of Agnes liked the profession. The answer was suitable and pleasing.

    "I happen to have a busy schedule." Agnes smiled at the dark brown, well-dressed man sitting on the opposite end of the counter at Kress Five & Dime. Really, she had no place to go but home and nothing to do but homework.

     

    Watching the events and lives of one family intertwined come together so beautifully in one novel is an absolute treat, and Regina Porter does not disappoint. "The Travelers" builds and weaves the story of family, strife, love, and frustration and encapsulates what it means to become and to remain a family. This story is absolutely gorgeous as it moves through time and experience and leaves its reader feeling like a part of the family rather than just an observer. --Delany Holcomb, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC

    --Regina Porter, The Travelers,(Hogarth, 2019) 9780525576198

  • Every True Pleasure | Wilton Barnhardt

    How the Light Gets InHejira

    It wasn't anything I had planned on, but at the age of twenty-two, after dropping out of my second college and traveling across the country a few times, I found myself back in Raleigh, living in my parents' basement. After six months spent waking at noon, getting high, and listening to the same Joni Mitchell record over and over again, I was called by my father into his den and told to get out. He was sitting very formally in a big, comfortable chair behind his desk, and I felt as though he were firing me from the job of being his son.

    I'd been expecting this to happen, and it honestly didn't bother me all that much. The way I saw it, being kicked out of the house was just what I needed if I was ever going to get back on my feet. "Fine," I said, "I'll go. But one day you'll be sorry."

    I had no idea what I meant by this. It just seemed like the sort of thing a person should say when was being told to leave.

    ...I wouldn't know it until months later, but my father had kicked me out of the house not because I was a bum but because I was gay. Our little talk was supposed to be one of those defining moments that shape a person's adult life, but he'd been so uncomfortable with the most important word that he'd left it out completely, saying only, "I think we both know why I'm doing this." I guess I could have pinned him down, I just hadn't seen the point. "Is it because I'm a failure? A drug addict? A sponge? Come on, Dad, just give me one good reason."

    Who wants to say that?

     

    --David Sedaris, in Every True Pleasure, edited by Wilton Barnhardt(UNC Press, 2019) 9781469646800

  • From Lady Banks' Commonplace Book: Mama by Lee Smith

    Mothers and StrangersMama

    My good friend Samia Serageldin took me out to lunch in Chapel Hill, shortly after the death of her powerful and aristocractic Eygptian mother, along with another friend, Margaret Rich, whose own mother, a strong-willed southern matriarch, had just died at the age of one hundred in Greenville, South Carolina. "I have an idea," Samia said in her charming, lilting way. "Let's write a book about our mothers." Immediately we were in. We told other friends the idea, and they were in, too. We were all in. Because somehow we have come to that time in our lives when all the parents are gone, leaving us motherless, or fatherless, or, often now, orphans--suddenly out in the world alone, with nothing to stand between us and well, what? What? It is a time of reckoning. And who was she, that one who gave us birth, surely the most intimate of all physical relationships? Hers was the first face we say, the first voice we heard...surely this is especially important for a writer, how wer first experience language....Who was she to us, or we to her? Who are we now, without her?

     

    --Lee Smith, in Mothers and Strangers,edited by Samia Serageldin and Lee Smith (UNC Press, 2019) 9781469651675

  • From Lady Banks' Commonplace Book: Odd Leaves

    Odd Leaves from the Life of a Louisiana Swamp DoctorExcerpted noteworthy poetry and prose from her ladyship's bedside reading stack.

    The old lady was a shrewd, active dame, kindhearted and long-tongued, benevolent and impartial, making her coffee as strong for the poor pedestrian with his all upon his back as the broadcloth sojourner with his "up-country pacer." She was a member of the church, as well as the daughter of a man who had once owned a race horse; and these circumstances gave her an indisputable right, she thought, to "let on all she knew" when religion or horseflesh was the theme. At one moment she would be heard discussing whether the new "circus rider" (as she always called him) was as affecting in Timothy as the old one was pathetic in Paul, and anon (not anonymous, for the old lady did everything above board, except rubbing her corns at supper) protecting dad's horse from the invidious comparisons of some visitor who having heard, perhaps, that such horses as Fashion and Boston existed, thought himself qualified to doubt the old lady's assertion that her father's horse "Shumach" had run a mile on one particular occasion. "Don't tell me," was her never failing replay to their doubts, "Don't tell me 'bout Fashun or Bosting or any other beating 'Shumach' a fair race, for the thing was unfeasible: didn't he run a mile a minute by Squire Dim's watch, which always stopt 'zactly at twelve, and didn't he start a minute afore and git out, jes as the long hand war givin' its last quiver on ketchin' the short leg of the watch?" 

    --Henry Clay Lewis, in Odd Leaves from the Life of a Louisiana Swamp Doctor, edited by Edwin T. Arnold (Louisiana State University Press, 1997) 9780807121672

  • From Lady Banks' Commonplace Book: The Magnetic Girl

    Excerpted noteworthy poetry and prose from her ladyship's bedside reading stack

    The Magnetic Girl I had been a town girl once, when Daddy clerked at the hardware store. Momma and Daddy and I lived upstairs. Leo hadn't been born. What I remember is that inside our home, the curtains fluttered in a breeze that I tried to catch in my hand, and when I walked on the sidewalk with Momma the sun made the world too bright at the edges and hard to see. The fresh-cut pine smell from the boards in the sidewalk made me want to inhale all the air all at once.

    I taught myself to read before I turned four, pronouncing words from the sides of grain sacks and the labels on medicine bottles at the store. Saying the black and gold lettering's alchemy aloud, I practiced my words. "Hoofland's Bitters for the Liver," I said. "We sell everything from horse shoes to hats." For the longest time I believed the store only sold objects that started with the letter "H."

    A few months before God brought Leo, we packed up and moved to a big white house and acreage outside town, where Daddy said a man could be himself and not feel like other people and their avarice--he spit the word in a way that frightened me--shadowed him at every turn.

    --Jessica Handler, The Magnetic Girl,(Hub City Press, 2019) 9781938235481

  • The Accident of Color: A Story of Race in Reconstruction

    The TravelersJust as an historian of medieval France must keep in the front of her mind that in the Middle Ages there was no France, only a smattering of feudal lands that would one day become France, so a student of Reconstruction must be cognizant that the firm racial binary Americans accept to this day is a result of Jim Crow, not a cause of it. The one-drop rule--the concept that any trace of African ancestry at all makes an American "a negro"--was not even conjured until the 1850s and was not widely accepted until the early twentieth century. It is only bcause mixed-race activists were defeated in their valiant effort to stop a regime of race-based rights that contemporary Americans view society through the racial blinders that we do. Today, decades after the dismantling of Jim Crow, Americans still see our society and ourselves in binary terms of "white" and "colored." That our racial system is second nature to us but incomprehensible to the rest of teh world--even to people from other New World societies that once practiced slavery but never instituted Jim Crow--should highlight for us how peculiar it is.

    --Daniel Brook, The Accident of Color: A Story of Race in Reconstruction (W. W. Norton& Company, 2019)