Tales of the Bull City

In ‘27 Views of Durham,’ local writers capture its gritty, vibrant personality

CorrespondentOctober 13, 2012 

  • Details What: Reading and discussion of “27 Views of Durham” Who: Steve Schewel moderates a discussion with writers Rodrigo Dorfman, Adam Sobsey, Jean Anderson, Pierce Freelon, Diane Daniel and Ceil Cleveland. With music by Rebecca Newton and friends. Cost: Free. Info: 919-560-0100

“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 City Council member. “27 Views” is a vibrant and cheerfully unruly collection.

The stories include 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.

“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.”

Schewel echoed Woodman’s view.

“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.”

“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 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 fret 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 bans same-sex marriages and civil unions in the state, passed by 22 percentage points statewide. 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 advocate 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.”

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 ways 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.”

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.”

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