“Durham isn’t quiet,” writes Steve Schewel in his introduction to the new anthology “27 Views of Durham: The Bull City in Prose & Poetry,” a collection of work from local writers.
“While few have captured Durham in fiction, our city attracts more than its share of journalists and bloggers, essayists and advocates, historians and slam poets. They embrace the clang and clamor.”
The book certainly backs up the introduction by Schewel, a longtime Durham activist, co-founder of the Independent Weekly and member of the City Council. “27 Views” is a vibrant and cheerfully unruly collection.
The jostling array of stories includes contributions from local authors such as Ariel Dorfman, Pierce Freelon, Lewis Shiner, Carl W. Kenney II and Jean Anderson. The anthology features history and anecdote, essay and remembrance, fiction and poetry. (Note: Freelon, Kennedy and contributor Jim Wise are columnists for The Durham News.)
Now on local bookstore shelves, “27 Views of Durham” officially launches Thursday with a reception and reading at Motorco, 723 Rigsbee Ave. The event starts at 7:30 pm and is free and open to the public. The book is also available for purchase online at enopublishers.org.
“27 Views of Durham” is the fourth in a series from Eno Publishers, a small Hillsborough non-profit established in 2007 by Elizabeth Woodman and Gita Schonfeld. The “27 Views” series has previously featured anthologies on Hillsborough, Chapel Hill and Asheville.
Woodman compiled and edited the Durham anthology and said this new book, on the town that tobacco built, has a particularly unfiltered flavor.
“In the introduction, Steve points out there’s a juxtaposition between Durham’s newly discovered cool and the city’s persistent reality,” Woodman said. “That really emerges over and over again in the stories. We tried to make this book wide-ranging and unfiltered. It adds such tension and interest to the collection.”
Speaking from his home in Durham, Schewel echoed Woodman’s assessment.
“One of the common themes in the book is grit,” Schewel said. “In Durham, there is a lot of perseverance as people are moving forward to improve our city. It’s an unpretentious place.”A loto of ground
“27 Views of Durham” covers a lot of ground as the stories proceed through seven sections with names like “Street Scenes,” “Homeward” and “Durham Out Loud.” In one chapter, writer Adam Sobsey remembers his time working in the city’s venerable cathedral of baseball, the Durham Athletic Park. In another, Margaret Rich writes about her introduction to the city in “Out of the Frying Pan: Duke Hospital, 1970.”
A few stories later, author and pastor Kenney pens the fictional account “Home is a Cup of Coffee,” about some Ninth Street coffee shop regulars who worry when a familiar face goes missing on a cold night – a homeless man named Stick.
Also among the selections is a recollection by Barry Yeoman, “The Morning After Amendment One.” In the essay, Yeoman recalls the oddly hopeful mood in downtown Durham when the controversial ballot initiative was ratified in May. The amendment, which essentially outlaws gay marriage in the state, passed by more than 22 percentage points statewide. But in Durham, seven in 10 voters opposed the measure.
“I have never seen a community mount such a forceful, unified, creative response to a collective threat,” Yeoman writes. “I have never had so many neighbors tell me, ’Your battle is mine, too.’”
Schewel said that, in his introduction to the book, he wanted to contrast Yeoman’s observations with the legacy of two Durham writers and activists from the past – labor advocate Ernest Seeman and civil rights pioneer Pauli Murray.
“One of the main things that I tried to talk about is that, for two of our most interesting writers – Pauli Murray and Ernest Seeman – Durham wasn’t a place they could stay,” Schewel said. “Both of them had to leave Durham for reasons of politics and prejudice, before they could do their significant work.”
“What’s great now is that there has been a change. When you get to Barry’s essay, you see that change. People don’t have to leave Durham anymore.”Motorco readings
Woodman said the Motorco event will feature readings by many of the book’s contributors.
“We’ve tried to get as many authors as we possibly can,” Woodman said. “I think we’re going to have 18, maybe as many as 20, and they’ll read just a small portion of each piece. So it’s like a slam – we call it a 27 Views Slam.”
Local musician and songwriter Rebecca Newton will perform her contribution to the book, “One Square Mile: A Durham Anthem.” The lyrics of Newton’s song are printed in the book’s final section, and her recording of the piece is available online at reverbnation.com/rebeccanewton.
Woodman said that, looking back on the project, she’s still amazed at the range of perspectives gathered in the anthology.
“There are a lot of way to look at the city, a lot of ways of knowing it,” Woodman said. “’27 Views’ is how writers think of and write about the very complicated places that we call home.”‘Home again’
In his essay “Home Again,” Adam Sobsey writes of growing up in Durham, returning home again, and baseball.
“The Durham Bulls have been transformed, as well. In the 1990s they were sold, moved out of the dilapidated DAP and into Durham Bulls Athletic Park, a new ballpark built next to the renovated American Tobacco Complex.
I’ve had close contact with both the team and the city, covering the Bulls and their milieu for the last few years. I, too, have been transformed: I have become a sportswriter (and a grownup). But in the spirit of Durham, I do it my way, cranking out 3,000 word postgame essays late into the sticky night. Just as Durham was a great place to grow up, it is a good place to be a grownup, too. You can do, make, be what you want here.”