The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Georgann Eubanks

Georgann Eubanks is a true Renaissance person. She is the author of the Literary Trails series commissioned by the North Carolina Arts Council and published by UNC Press. She is a writer, teacher, and consultant with more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector.

I met Georgann many moons ago through my writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson. Georgann is welcoming and super supportive of new and emerging writers. Indeed, she has been nurturing writers all over the state. Eubanks has taught creative writing as a guest artist in public schools and prisons, at UNC-Chapel Hill, and served as the writing coach for the William C. Friday Fellows for 17 years. Eubanks also served for 20 years as Director of the Duke University Writers’ Workshop, a summer writing program for adults.

Today she directs the Table Rock Writers Workshop, held annually in Little Switzerland, NC. Eubanks has published short stories, poems, reviews, and profiles in many magazines and journals including Oxford American, Bellingham Review, Southern Review, Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, and North American Review.

I’ve been interested in the creative life Georgann has cultivated and have wanted to feature her here for some time. As soon as I found out about the topic of Geogann’s new book, The Month of Their Ripening: North Carolina Heritage Foods through the Year, I asked for an interview. Food is serious business in the South. Food as a theme knits together culture, community, economics, and tradition. And, as someone who has lived here for more than fifteen years, I have become a student of the wonderful food traditions that mark this state. There’s so much to learn! Gardeners, foodies, historians and everyone in between will enjoy this book. The Month of Their Ripening is a real contribution to the history and culture of North Carolina.

I am delighted to welcome Georgann Eubanks to The Practice of Creativity.

Why did you write The Month of Their Ripening? What’s in store for readers?

Photographer Donna Campbell and I had so much fun working on the Literary Trails Series for the NC Arts Council and UNC Press (three books that took 10 years to complete), we realized we had developed an essential habit of travel and sleuthing out stories across the state. We wanted more! Around the same time, the fig tree that I had planted in 2006 in the side yard of my Carrboro condo had begun to produce prodigious fruit. Season after season I kept thinking I wanted to write about the mysteries of fresh figs—an edible memory for me from my youth. I started trying to list other foods as fragile and delicious as fresh figs, and soon Donna and I had a plan to eat our way across North Carolina, collecting stories from growers and fishmongers, chefs and scientists who knew about the twelve foods I ended up picking for the new book.

What’s in store for readers are twelve chapters that you can read totally out of order. Some themes do arise as the book moves through the year from January to December, but you can pick up the story in whatever month it might be when you start reading or begin with a food you are curious about. The chapters unfold just as the stories did for me in my research, including both the history of a particular food and the people who bring it to market. It is a culinary journey which I hope is a fun read.

The foods selected are a bit uncommon in that they are so perishable and not always in the grocery store—foods such as soft-shell crab, persimmons, wild ramps that grow only in the mountains, shad which only swim up our rivers from the ocean in early spring, and scuppernongs which are North Carolina’s official state fruit. The first chapter is about snow, which you definitely can’t buy in a grocery, and which, when it falls, usually makes us all a little crazy in North Carolina. Making snow cream is a highly variable practice among Tar Heels, and the farther east you go in the state, the more excited the consumers get about their recipes because of the rarity of the prime ingredient.

What’s your process like when you work on a book?

I take copious notes as I do my research, and one thing usually leads to another. This book involves a good bit of library research ahead of our travels to meet the experts. Understand: I am a happy eater, but I not trained in agriculture or food science or the culinary arts, or even as a historian, so I mostly brought my ignorance and curiosity to this book and set out to learn as much as I could from the long history and literature on these foods. Then I began my original research by meeting a range of contemporary growers, nursery owners, dairy goat farmers, fishermen and fishmongers, and foragers. In the case of oysters—the last chapter—I studied a bit about aquaculture, since North Carolina is developing a nascent industry in oyster cultivation. I learned so much! I tried to think of my readers all the way along, anticipating questions and trying to convey the sights, textures, tastes, and fabulous array of North Carolina accents I heard in our travels. I hope people will be curious enough to visit some of the locations we visited across the state.  And the next time they bite into a slice of cantaloupe or an heirloom apple, they might do so with a bit more appreciation for what they are eating and how it figures in our collective history as North Carolinians.

What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching North Carolina’s heritage foods?

Several themes emerged from the avalanche of interesting tidbits.  One is that according to the food sellers I interviewed, contemporary food shoppers and restaurant goers always tend think that bigger is better. They want the biggest soft-shell crab, the heaviest cantaloupe, the fattest scuppernongs.  But the truth is, bigger is not always better. As the octogenarian Miss Clara Brickhouse told me as she lifted up a plastic container of her best bronze scuppernongs from Columbia, NC, “A quart is a quart, honey.  And the smaller ones is sweeter.”

You manage to pack a lot into your day! You produce documentaries, consult, blog and teach workshops. How do these different activities fuel your creativity?

Some activities pay the bills and thus help free up time for the creative projects that don’t pay for themselves. But in the end, all my work involves the same activities. I am always listening, paying attention to what’s going on around me, recording other people’s words, and trying to recreate an experience–either on the page or in video–for others to read or watch and thus share in the story. My fundamental goal, no matter what the activity, is to show rather than tell—not to over-analyze or judge but to move toward a greater understanding and compassion for who we are as humans and how we can be motivated to improve what needs improving and preserve and protect what is most precious around us.

What’s your next writing project? What are you working on right now?

I am always working on new ideas and making research trips for my blog,, which is great fun and a way to extend the research and food sampling we did on The Month of Their Ripening. Donna Campbell is the lead on a commissioned documentary about the late Kenneth Paul Block, who was arguably the most important fashion illustrator of the 20th century—a fascinating story we are gathering together. I am involved in planning a range of activities in 2019 in eastern NC, associated with the 25th anniversary of Pocosin Arts School of Fine Craft, where I serve on the board of directors. I am helping to launch a new leadership program for innovative young North Carolinians through the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. As for the next book, I have several ideas, but I’m not quite ready to say what might rise to the top. I am mostly seeking more opportunities to speak about The Month of Their Ripening because I really enjoy discussing this work in different contexts, and this book is a natural for gardening groups, food lovers, environmental organizations, in addition to the usual book groups, book stores, and libraries.

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Like many writers, I was drawn to the practice and the craft of writing out of a need to tell my own story and try to make sense of it—at first in fiction, later in poetry, and then I discovered non-fiction and the power of real stories that are not my own. In the last 20 years, I have learned more about myself by listening to others. So if you are a writer reading this blog and you are feeling very stuck in your own material, or very afraid of your own material, consider using your curiosity to write what you don’t know. Pick a topic that you are curious about and see what you can learn from someone else and try to make that person and their circumstances come alive on the page. It’s good practice. And practice is what we all must do, all the time. No writer ever arrives.

Georgann Eubanks is a writer, teacher, and consultant with more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Since 2000 she has been a principal with Donna Campbell in Minnow Media, LLC, an Emmy-winning multimedia production company that primarily creates independent documentaries for public television.

A graduate of Duke University, Eubanks is also a former president of Arts North Carolina, a former chair of the NC Humanities Council, and is one of the founders of the North Carolina Writers Network. She is the current president of the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association and serves on the board of Pocosin Arts in Columbia, NC. Her current book, The Month of Their Ripening: North Carolina Heritage Foods through the Year, was just released by UNC Press.

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Question: What would make over 130 business leaders, artists, politicians and representatives from various nonprofit organizations stay inside on an 80 degree Saturday? Answer: A spirited discussion about how Chatham County can use its natural strengths to develop its creative economic sector. I’m a professional creativity coach and I had the pleasure of being in that room talking with participants about arts, culture and place based economic development at The Chatham Creative Economy Summit.

The role of creativity and its relationship to thriving communities has been front and center on North Carolina’s agenda from Governor Perdue to The Institute for Emerging Issues who hosted a conference on creativity last year. The Chatham County Economic Development Corporation organized Saturday’s program. It was sponsored by Progress Energy and local groups including Shakori Grassroots Festival, the Chatham Arts Council, the Chatham Artists Guild and The NC Arts Incubator.

The unstated goals of the summit were to educate thought leaders about how a creative economy is not just about bringing artists to a community but supports an infrastructure of employment opportunities. I attended because I wanted to hear new ideas about how residents of Chatham County can assist in strengthening Chatham County’s identity as a creative place that supports businesses and economic development. And, I wasn’t disappointed.

Linda Carlisle, Secretary of the NC Department of Cultural Resources and former entrepreneur gave a rousing keynote address. Her office includes the State Library, the State Archives, 27 Historic Sites, 7 History Museums, Historical Publications, Archaeology, Genealogy, Historic Preservation, the North Carolina Symphony, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the North Carolina Museum of Art. Audience members took notice when she said that the creative sector is nearly 6% of NC’s overall economy. About 300,000 jobs and $41 billion (and she stressed the ‘B’ in billion) annually are directly tied to creative activities in the state. Another surprising nugget was learning that the creative sector is resilient; it is one of the employment sectors that doesn’t shed jobs– even in times of economic downtown. And, creative employment is less likely to be shipped overseas.

Carlisle offered excellent examples across the state of other communities that have distinguished themselves by developing a creative identity that supports economic development. The ‘Weaverville Arts Safari’, a self-guided tour of local arts, in Weaverville, that brings people to the area and Greensboro’s Triad Stage that has triggered business development in the downtown area are two examples. Carlisle encouraged us to think about how we communicate the value of arts and culture to others as not only developing the inner lives of residents, but that the creative sector “feeds families in North Carolina”. North Carolina is the 6th most visited state in the country. Carlisle is eager to build on that success, and do even better. The key, she believes, is to continue to support communities that have strong cultural and heritage tourism potential. She gave several tips about how Chatham County can build on its already impressive array of distinctions including a niche focus in sustainable agriculture, the Shakori Grassroots music festival, a strong literary tradition, and a nationally known biofuels industry.

Building on Chatham’s already existing treasures was a theme followed up by the panelists after the keynote. Mary Regan, director of the NC Arts Council was the moderator for the panel. Diane Cherry (policy manager for Institute for Emerging Issues, NC State University) provided more examples of communities that have capitalized on arts driven economic development. She and Georgann Eubanks (communications consultant and filmmaker),challenged us to think about how to create a unified brand about what Chatham offers to visitors and potential businesses. Eubanks said that the creative economy is broad and diverse and includes the culinary arts, makeup artists and hairstylists, radio stations and churches and the people who have shaped a particular place. Once a community approaches a critical mass in bringing together an array of resources, strong economic gains are much more likely. Betty Hurst (Director of Entrepreneurship, Handmade America) talked about the need for leadership and the importance of working together to create a vision that everyone is proud of and promotes. The panel started late and unfortunately, Stuart Rosenfeld (economist, founder of Regional Technology) had to rush through his presentation. He focused on why many people don’t understand the value of a creative economic infrastructure.

Although it was listed as a panel discussion, there was no Q&A between panelists and the audience which was frustrating. We had a 5 minute break and then we were asked to have a table top discussion with a ‘table leader’ to apply what we heard to Chatham. The table I was sitting at didn’t have an assigned a table leader. It was bit chaotic because everyone had a pent up desire to talk, had to squeeze in lunch, and it wasn’t clear what we were to do with our table exercise once we were finished. Despite this bit of chaos, all tables managed to brainstorm ideas about furthering the economic development of Chatham County’s creative economy. My table concluded that Chatham did not necessarily need new events to attract people here, we already have great things to do, see and experience; we need better marketing and branding strategies so that people can easily find out about us.

After lunch, the audience got to hear from the Meet the New Media panel including Tim Moore, Carolina Business Connection, David Fellerath, Culture Editor for The Independent Weekly and Leoneda Inge, reporter for WUNC Radio. This panel, moderated by Rebecca Antonelli, provided nuts and bolts advice about how to get out to the media all the good things that Chatham offers.

An incredible amount of hard work went into putting this event together. As a first-of-its-kind-event, I think it was very successful. Overall, people walked away energized, informed , having met new contacts and ready to work with local organizations to support the vision of a thriving Chatham creative economic sector. I felt moved enough to volunteer to convene a ‘creative cluster’ of folks to meet and keep the conversation going. I hope this summit becomes an annual event.

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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