The Practice of Creativity

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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, foodpilgrim.tumblr.com, 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.

Go visit her:

WEBSITE: georganneubanks.net

BLOG: foodpilgrim.tumblr.com

WORKSHOPS: minnowschool.com

 

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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