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Tales of Southern Culture

Posted On March 29, 2014

Dr. William Ferris, the noted author and historian of the south and its stories and music, will be making an appearance to speak about his new book. Clyde Edgerton will be there to play Blues music.

By GINA MAHALEK

 The Storied South book

Ferris’s new book, The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists,is a collection of intimate interviews with writers, scholars, musicians, photographers, and painters and their personal stories. The volume also includes 45 of Ferris’s striking photographic portraits of the speakers and a CD and a DVD of original audio and films of the interviews.

            “The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artistsis a collection of interviews I conducted over the past forty years,” Ferris said. “They feature a broad range of people―Southerners and nonsoutherners, men and women, black and white. ”

            “Together, they share a common interest in, a passion for, and an obsession with the American South that define how they write, compose, photograph, and paint.”

            Ferris includes interviews of some of the most luminous artists and thinkers in the American cultural firmament such as Eudora Welty, Margaret Walker, Charles Seeger, Bobby Rush, William Eggleston, Sam Gilliam, and Rebecca Davenport.

            “Their stories give us a unique lens through which we can explore the region,” he said. “Gathered together in this book, they remind us why the human voice is key to the Southern experience.”

            Ferris, a renowned folklorist and leader in Southern studies, has been collecting these one-on-one interviews for four decades.

            “I sought out these individuals because their work helps me understand my life as a Southerner,” he said. “They come from diverse backgrounds, and they constitute a chorus of voices, all of which are deeply connected to the region.”

            “Each person reflects on how the South shaped his or her career as a writer, scholar, musician, photographer, or painter. Together, they created a body of work that defined both their region and their nation in the twentieth century.”

            The Storied Southalso delves into the controversial racial and socioeconomic history of the South. Ferris said the region is framed by anecdotes of the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, and the New South, and that these stories affect both white and black Southerners in profound ways.

            “To understand these stories, we must understand the contested memory of black and white Southerners who offer opposing views of the region’s history,” he said. “The perspective of white writers often contrasts with that of black writers, and together they offer a rich, diverse portrait of the region.”

            Ferris said he drew upon various voices and artistic mediums to give a multidimensional representation of Southern culture.

           “I focused my camera and microphone on those who explored the region through photography, poetry, fiction, and scholarship,” he said. “Each looked at the South carefully. They studied its worlds, as a potter examines the clay that slowly turns on the wheel before him or her.”

            Though the interview subjects and their stories vary greatly, Ferris said they are all united in their love for the South and its connection to the human experience.

            “I discovered that each person uses the story to explain his or her attraction to the South,” he said. “The intellectual tools with which they work differ, but their love for the region and its stories is a bond they share.”

            Ferris is the Joel R. Williams Eminent Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the senior associate director of its Center for the Study of the American South.

            A former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ferris is the author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues, among other books, and co-editor of the award-winning Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

            He was also the founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he taught for 18 years. He also taught at Yale University and Jackson State University.

            He said he was grateful to have met such cultural icons, and that their stories helped him reconnect with the boy on the farm who listened to his grandfather tell stories and spin tall-tales.

            “These stories shaped me and helped me understand my own life,” he said. “They led me back to the place where I was born, to people whom I deeply love.”

 The Friends of the Library event is Saturday, April 26 at 2pm, at the NE branch library, 1241 Military Cutoff Road, Wilmington NC.

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