Bill Ferris, a history and American studies professor at UNC recently published a new book, The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists. The book is a collection of photos and interviews with famous southern writers, musicians, and artists.
Ferris will discuss his new book at the Pleasants Family Assembly room of Wilson Library at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. Daily Tar Heel Staff Writer Zach Freshwater met with Ferris Tuesday to talk about his new book.
Daily Tar Heel: Could you tell me a little bit about your book?
Bill Ferris: It’s a collection of interviews with people who I admire greatly, and whose work has inspired me greatly in the study of the South… They all inspired my work, and I thought together they would offer a voice of many perspectives as writers, as painters, as photographers for how you understand the American South.
DTH: How would you describe that understanding?
BF: I would describe it as a love-hate relationship. These people are deeply invested in the South… Each of them in different ways are part of a conversation about how we can have a more meaningful understanding of what the South is all about.
DTH: What do you want people to take away from your book?’
BF: I’d like people who read this book to feel like they’ve sat down at a table with these voices and have had a very intimate, personal visit with each of them— as people, as writers, as artists. And that they are part of the community of people who are featured in this book.
DTH: Where does your interest in the American South stem from?
BF: I think my interest in the South comes from being born here. Growing up on a farm and always being curious about that place and, by extension, places in which I’ve lived in the South. People always ask you what it’s like there, and what do they do there. And that became a mission that became a career as a folklorist.
DTH: You were interviewed on NPR recently. What was that like?
BF: It was very moving. I discovered that the interviewer was the granddaughter of William Grant Still, the great composer whose music I teach in my Southern Music class. So I was very moved by that. And when Celeste Headlee, the interviewer, played the voices of some of the people in my book, I felt almost like they were back with us. Hearing those voices was a very emotional experience for me.
DTH: Your book includes a DVD and audio disk. What was it like to create a multimedia project like this?
BF: When I listened to the CD after putting the book together, it was incredibly powerful to hear the voices that you’ve been working with on paper. And in some cases to see them on film. For me as a folklorist, that’s a very exciting moment to know that you can merge these different worlds together in a single project.
DTH: A lot of your work focuses on the history and preservation of the South. How do you view the modern South?
BF: The more things change, the more things stay the same. I think the modern South is a changed and rapidly changing world. It’s moved from an agrarian culture to a very urban world, with cities like Charlotte, Atlanta, Memphis. Southern people increasingly live in highrises, but they still keep their roots in that old agrarian world. The places this book celebrates are close to their hearts. You’re deeply invested in this history. You may be Hispanic or Asian or move here from another country, but this world, it becomes part of your life.
DTH: What’s your favorite part of your job?
BF: My favorite part of my job is at eight in the morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays and going into my class. Here are these amazing students who have gotten up at that hour and are ready to talk about and listen and share ideas. And these are amazing students who go on to do great work that’s connected to the South.
DTH: Do you have any projects planned for the future?
BF: I’m starting a book somewhat similar to this one. My photography on the south— I have about 50,000 images, photographs, color slides, that I will be editing into a volume on the South. And I’m starting that this fall.
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