Authors’ spaces, veganism, and an evangelist
by Rob Neufeld
Hub City Press deserves a hurrah. For 20 years, it has been publishing high quality books and “crafting a literary community in the most unlikely of places: Spartanburg,” as editor Meg Reid notes in her foreword to Hub City’s anniversary-timed treasure, “Carolina Writers at Home.”
It’s not surprising that 25 North Carolina authors have rallied to contribute essays about their inner sanctums (“sancta,” for Latin scholars), which they have also opened to photographer Rob McDonald, who calls Hub City directors, Betsy Teter and Meg Reid, “personal heroes.”
Three of the authors—Kay Byer, Keith Flynn, and Thomas Rain Crowe—along with Reid and McDonald, launch the book regionally at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, 2 p.m., Oct. 25 ; and Byer and Crowe present it at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 6:30 p.m., Nov. 6.
Writers at home
“I grew up in a museum,” writes Josephine Humphries, author of “Rich in Love” and “Nowhere Else on Earth.” Her mother had worked in the Charleston Museum, and little Josephine had been allowed to freely roam the “back passageways and dark storage rooms,” pausing at a polar bear, a shrunken head, Confederate swords, and fire engines.
On Sullivan’s Island, she “wanted a house that children would love, full of color and sunlight and surprises, objects with a story.” Her favorites items are heads and figurines, such as puppets once used as teaching aids, but which now serve as “little demigods”—teachers, cops, elderly gents, and such—who “watch from on high over my desk.”
In the past, she liked to write in a spare rented studio in Charleston’s Confederate Home, once a place for widows, but “these days I go back and forth between my two writing places...What’s written at home will be wilder, messier, buzzier, and more surprising to me.”
Many writers are collectors.
Daniel Wallace, author of “Big Fish,” has a cricket cage inhabited by plastic babies, which inspired his film, “Baby Cage.” Jill McCorkle builds dollhouses. “When I hit a snag in my writing,” she says, “I just turn away from the window and my workspace and go outdoors for a walk or I work on the dollhouse.”
Michael Parker, author of “All I Have in This World,” lives in the middle unit of a triplex, keeps his place bare, and writes, “My rooms are the present tense.”
Clyde Edgerton focuses on his fire pit.
Kathryn Stripling Byer watches the world changing out her windows, laments the loss of homeplace, and discloses, “I have spent a lifetime learning to make myself at home, whether on a plane flying through turbulent weather or alone in a campsite, scrubbing underwear in a makeshift basin, or sitting at my kitchen table, working to make myself at home in a poem.”
“If my voice never makes itself at home in the poems,” she affirms, “the poem never finds its way home.” And that relates to the artistic joy of “Carolina Writers at Home,” not just the revelations, but also the distinctive writing and the beautifully toned images.
Vegan spirit of the times
It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that people started talking about being “vegan,” even though the word had been coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, who’d broken from the Vegetarian Society in England.
Freya Dinshah’s cookbook, “The Vegan Kitchen” came out in 1974. By the mid-1990s, veganism was a widespread movement, and Berkeley responded to vegan students’ protests by providing non-animal-product options in the university cafeteria.
Now, Laura Wright, head of the English Department at Western Carolina University, wants to recognize the historic phenomenon and develop “vegan studies.”
With a flair for wide-ranging observation (Buffy the Vampire, Cormac McCarthy, veganorexia, and the positive image website, vgirlsvguys.net are a few of her topics), Wright establishes her entry in the scholarly arena.
The largeness of the topic is concerned not just with health and economy, but also ethics and feminism.
Wright notes how Lisa Simpson’s boyfriend had one-upped her brag about vegetarianism by stating, “I’m a level five vegan. I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow.” Wright then counters the satire with the serious proposition that veganism is part of a much larger philosophy that relates to the oppression of women, races, and nature.
The connection between veganism and 9/11 is personal and political. Wright became a vegan in the summer of 2001 to “make my life consistent,” she relates. She also notes the post-9/11 increase in us-versus-them thinking, directed even at consumers characterized as “un-American.”
She quotes hyperbolic Anthony Bourdain: “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.”
The danger of having any kind of studies program is that already-advocates will be the ones concentrating in it. But Wright’s work, academic only in places, should be used to inform general studies programs, for it is authoritatively thorough and clear.
Wright will discuss her book, “The Vegan Studies Project: Food, Animals, and Gender in the Age of Terror,” 1 p.m. Sun., Oct. 11, at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva; and, joined by Carol Adams, author of “The Sexual Politics of Meat,” at 7 p.m., Nov. 6, at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville.
“Not only are we cherry-picking the Scriptures, but we’re also inserting our own feel-good notions,” East Tennessee pastor Brian Cosby says in his new book, “Uncensored: Daring to Embrace the Entire Bible.”
For instance, there’s this skipped-over passage: “If a son dishonored his parents, all the men of the city were to stone him to death.”
And there’s this one wrongly assumed to be in the New Testament: “Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.”
Cosby’s secure faith goes back to his grandparents on their farm in the Southern Appalachians. They had read Scripture and related to God every moment of their days, Cosby reveals, and “their home radiated the warmth of love, godliness, and security.”
So, he’s not embarrassed by the Bible. Yet, his answers to questions about the Bible’s seeming inconsistencies, explained in a bright, accessible, re-emphasizing way, are not so revelatory. That is, they conform to well-known evangelistic Christian thinking.
Stoning in the Old Testament? Part of a progression to the New Testament. Evolution? Not proven. The existence of Hell? It may not be God’s grace, but it isn’t his absence, either.
The freshest parts are what come from grandpa and grandma, what Cosby calls “experiential testimony.” People have an innate sense of morality, Cosby assures us, as well as the capacity for sin, even as children; we need intimacy and community; we hold onto hope and advocate for truth; we’ve seen what grace can do.
Cosby speaks at the The Highway of Holiness National Conference, Ridgecrest Christian Conference Center, Oct. 29-31.