Raleigh anthology features stories of a diverse, vibrant city

CorrespondentSeptember 21, 2013 

  • Book signing

    Wilton Barnhardt and 21 of the author-contributors to “ 27 Views of Raleigh” will be at a reading and book signing at 3 p.m. Sunday at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books and Music, Ridgewood Shopping Center. Info: quailridgebooks.com or 919-828-1588.

There’s an old joke in the real estate business that only three things matter when buying property: Location, location, location.

That wise old adage could also serve as subtitle for the “27 Views” series of books from Hillsborough’s Eno Publishers, which gathers local authors to write about the places where they live. Previous “27 Views” anthologies have centered on Hillsborough, Chapel Hill, Asheville and Durham.

This month, Eno launches the fifth installment in the series, “27 Views of Raleigh: The City of Oaks in Prose and Poetry.” The official book launch will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh.

Author Wilton Barnhardt will emcee the free public event, which is scheduled to feature short readings from two dozen contributing authors.

The Raleigh anthology features different stories and a different city, but it follows the same theme as the earlier books: Writers thinking about –and writing about – that complicated place called home.

Sitting at a crowded Chapel Hill coffeehouse on a recent sunny morning, “27 Views” series editor Elizabeth Woodman said the newest anthology has a particular energy that reflects the diversity and sprawl of the busy capital city.

“We cast a really wide net, as far as genre goes,” Woodman said. “We have fiction, essays, history, poetry. We even have a science-fiction writer in the Raleigh book. We really want to capture that sense of place in as many forms as we possibly can.”

The book is sorted into six parts and actually includes 28 pieces of writing – 29 if you count the introduction from Barnhardt.

The number “27” came with the first book in the series. When Woodman counted up the number of local writers she initially contacted in Hillsborough, “it had a nice sound to it,” she said.

The number remains in the series title, but is now more of a theme.

“It’s actually pretty difficult to hit 27 exactly,” Woodman said.

Still, it provides a startling range of perspectives on the city. Chapters veer from deep-focus studies of character or place, as in the “Close Up” section, to fictional flights of surprising intensity.

Fantasy and politics

John Kessel’s sci-fi excerpt, “George Delivers the Goods,” reads like an apocalyptic Southern fever dream. In the story, Raleigh descends into chaos when religious fanatics and UFO crazies – all heavily armed – gather to witness a prophesied spaceship landing in Research Triangle Park. Throughout the book, perspectives swerve giddily, forming a larger picture of the city.

Most of the book’s entries are personal in nature.

Contributing writer Grayson Haver Currin provides an insightful essay on buying his first home with his wife, Tina Haver Currin – also a contributor to “27 Views” – in Raleigh’s historic Oakwood neighborhood,.

Grayson Currin, 30, music editor for the Durham-based Indy Week newspaper, grew up on a farm in Fuquay-Varina. He said Raleigh has represented the Big City since he was a child.

“My grandmother, when I was a kid, she would go shopping in Cameron Village,” he said. Going with her “was a life-changing experience when I was seven years old. I’ve always loved Raleigh. It’s always been the huge city in my life.”

He continues to live in Raleigh, where he co-founded the annual Hopscotch Music Festival.

Currin’s story – like each one in the book – provides a kind of facet, Woodman said, that comes together to form the shape of the anthology and its representation of the city.

“We all identify Raleigh as being this huge political center, and it is that,” Woodman said. “But one of the things Wilton Barnhardt writes about in his introduction – Raleigh is also a lot of neighborhoods and people living their daily lives. There’s sort of this permanent sideshow going on of the state government, and coexisting with that is a wonderful city full of creative people.”

Barnhardt, author and North Carolina native who has taught writing at N.C. State for the past decade, said he was honored to pen the introduction to “27 Views.”

While researching his latest novel, “Lookaway, Lookaway,” Barnhardt became intrigued with the region’s past, particularly its colorful, if limited, Civil War history.

“The war had pretty much petered out by the time it got here,” he said. “But I can look around Raleigh now and think how it all played out. General Sherman took possession of the executive mansion as Governor Vance ran for the hills. The union troops were encamped down near Meredith College, and people brought food and water out to the troops. We were hospitable, even though they were Yankees.”

He observes more recent developments with some skepticism.

The recent Republican takeover of state government, Barnhardt said, has complicated his job of running N.C. State’s MFA writing program and guiding the city’s next generation of authors.

“I’ve got to talk people into coming to our MFA program,” he said. “I have to convince people. …

“I have to say, ‘Oh, but we’re very different from the rest of the South. This is the Triangle. It’s a progressive island, and you’re going to like the quality of life here.’

“And this is a much more difficult argument for me to make now. We’ve slipped in terms of our reputation. Our brand is suffering.”

Future ‘Views’

So what’s in store for the “27 Views” series?

Editor Woodman said the next stop is the city of Charlotte. In fact, she said she already has a sense of a potential theme for the collection: “It turns out there are a lot of mystery writers in Charlotte.”

Future collections could focus on Greensboro, Wilmington or the coastal area as a whole, she said. Though there have been discussions about taking the series outside of North Carolina, specific plans remain indefinite.

Meanwhile, the editor will continue to aim for that magic number of 27.

“It turns out to be a nice grouping of views,” she said. “It gives you fiction, neighborhood views, people – all these different angles create a more comprehensive view of a place.”

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