Having lived in Traverse City, Michigan, for 22 years, John Flesher is accustomed to snow and cold weather by now.
But even he couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe at what Mother Nature did this winter — almost completely covering the Great Lakes with ice. Flesher, a correspondent for The Associated Press, wrote an article last month about ice covering nearly 90 percent of the Great Lakes, the first time that has happened since 1994.
John Flesher on frozen Lake Michigan
“It’s unusual for the entire surface area of the lakes to freeze over,” says Flesher, a 1980 NC State graduate who was editor of the Technician. “That just doesn’t happen. In order to have significant parts of the lake freeze over, it has to be really cold for a good period of time.”
And that’s what happened this winter, which has seen the Midwest and other sections of the country repeatedly get blasted with snow, ice and freezing temperatures.
For people who live and work around the Great Lakes, such drastic winter weather has created hardships and opportunities. In his article for The Associated Press, Flesher wrote about thousands of people taking advantage of Lake Superior being frozen over to explore caves with “dazzling ice formations.” But he also wrote about the challenges the ice presented for the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw trying to clear paths on Lake Huron for vessels carrying essential cargo such as heating oil. The local newspaper in Traverse City recently had a photo on the front page, Flesher says, of joggers running eight miles across the frozen Traverse Bay.
“It’s just an illustration that nature is very powerful,” he says. “It has a real effect on the economy and our way of life. When these extremes come along, people simply have to cope with it.”
Tyrone Davis describes himself as a low-key guy, someone who is not easily excited.
But even Davis had to admit to getting a little fired up when his telephone rang on a recent Friday. It was the White House calling, letting Davis know that he was being invited to sit in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box for President Obama’s State of the Union speech.
“I was thinking, wow, this is crazy,” Davis says. “My response was, ‘Of course I can make it.’”
So a few days later, Davis enjoyed a whirlwind day in Washington, D.C., culminating with the State of the Union speech in the U.S. House chamber.
Davis is now in law school at Elon University, but his invitation to Washington was the result of his interest in the environment that was sparked when he earned a bachelor’s degree (in 2007) and master’s degree in public administration (in 2009) at NC State. “I tried to focus on policy, and focus my studies on environmental and energy issues,” Davis says.
Davis, who grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C., went to work as an intern with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) after he finished graduate school at NC State. As an EDF Climate Corps fellow, Davis helped Elizabeth City State University find ways to become more energy efficient. The university then hired Davis on a temporary basis as a sustainability coordinator. He ended up showing the school how to save more than $31,000 a year.
“One thing that was easier than I expected was trying to change the culture,” Davis says. “It just came from me walking around the campus to see how things operated. I would walk around and talk to people. It kind of got them thinking.”
It was his work at Elizabeth City State University that prompted officials at the EDF to give Davis’ name to the White House as a possible guest at the State of the Union address. Davis was in Hong Kong as part of a study abroad program at Elon’s law school when he first heard from someone at the EDF that his name had been given to the White House.
“I just thought they would do some story on me or that my name might be mentioned in the speech,” says Davis, who hopes to work in some area of environmental law after he graduates from law school in May.
Davis meets with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy
But a couple of weeks later, Davis found himself in Washington, D.C. His day included a tour of the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency, where he met several top officials, and then a tour of the White House. That was followed by a reception in the East Room and a chance to have his photo taken with the first lady. “It was just a great experience,” Davis says.
One of the highlights of his White House visit was seeing various paintings of past presidents and first ladies. That may seem surprising, given that Davis is legally blind and he couldn’t see the paintings unless he was standing next to them. “I learned a little bit of the history behind some of those paintings,” he says.
Davis’ vision also limited what he could see at the State of the Union. He could figure out where President Obama was standing, but could not make out the president himself. At one point, Davis heard applause for someone walking behind him and has to ask someone seated near him who the applause was for. It was a soldier who was making his way to his seat.
“That’s the sort of thing I have to deal with on a daily basis,” Davis says. “I have to concentrate and listen a little bit harder.”
Davis had a brief opportunity to get a photo with the president after the speech, and then enjoyed talking with one of Michelle Obama’s other guests – a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing – when they both got back to the hotel that evening.
“It really did happen fast,” Davis says of his day in Washington. “I tried to take in as much as I could. The president and first lady were very warm and sincere people. The whole experience seemed very unreal.”
Wilton Barnhardt, associate professor of creative writing in NC State’s Master of Fine Arts program, garnered accolades with his sprawling novel of the new south, Lookaway, Lookaway, after it was published in August. The New York Review of Books called it “an uncompromising satire of the nostalgic ‘legacy’ of the South, the sentiment that causes states to fly the Confederate flag….also an emotional and layered reflection on a family.”
Now the book has captured the attention of television producers. HBO has optioned Lookaway, Lookaway for a comedy series. Executive producers for the project are Sue Nagle, former HBO entertainment president, and David Miner of “30 Rock” and “Parks & Recreation.” Barnhardt and his novel were featured in the Summer 2013 issue of NC State magazine, and we caught up with him to learn more his move from the printed page to the small screen.
What are the chances that you’ll end up with a hit series? We have to remember this is an option to make a pilot that may or may not be picked up. We all know the odds. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections had a pilot made and not picked up. The project could also die a competitive death if there is something else too similar on a network or another show that might be stealing the audience. But everyone at this stage is very positive. I think it looks good because of the people associated with it.
What kind of involvement will you have? I’m a co-executive producer. Getting an option for a book is not that difficult, but what requires a little more negotiation is making sure you have a part in the production….It’s quite likely that it will be filmed here [in North Carolina]. This is meant to be a series about New South as it really is. I don’t believe the New South has been adequately portrayed on television. It’s always the cartoon south—competitive catty women or an update of “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “The Dukes of Hazzard.” It might be entertaining but it’s not how we live. …But I’m getting serious. And this is going to be funny. David Miner, one of executive producers, is there to make sure we don’t get too unfunny.
What happens next? I’m going to LA for about 10 days in March for a meeting. What they told me is it’s an excruciatingly long time before we can march into network and say, “Here’s what we think we can get with casting, here are the first episodes.’’ When you go into the network you have to have the perfect package. Then, if you get the thumbs up, it becomes excruciatingly fast. But if all goes well, we could be going into production in 2015.
Dream cast? It’s dangerous to fantasize. Right now I’m trying to calm students down who are already casting themselves.
What kind of compensation do you get? You make very little money until you make a lot.
– Sylvia Adcock ’81
As a high school student, Amber Smith wanted to make a difference somewhere. She just didn’t know where that “somewhere” was.
That uncertainty continued to nag at Smith during her first two years as a student at NC State. It wasn’t until she decided to take a break from school and join a friend, Heather Leah, on a cross-country road trip that she started to find some answers. For two a half months, Smith and Leah volunteered in every state they visited.
“[We] really got the sense that people wanted to make a difference, they just weren’t sure where to get started,” says Smith. “At the same time, there were all these causes that were constantly in need of more manpower and more help.”
With that in mind, Smith and Leah founded ME3, which stands for Motivate, Educate, Empower and Engage, in 2005. Renamed Activate Good in 2011, the Raleigh-based nonprofit aims to help volunteers find causes that need them. Both volunteers and nonprofits can create an account on the website for free.
“You can participate in short-term project or even on one day, you can use your special skills to help complete a project for a cause, you can make an ongoing commitment. It really doesn’t matter what your skills, schedule or interests are, there’s something out there for you,” says Smith.
After taking a few years off from school, Smith re-enrolled and created her own major, called “social change leadership,” through the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ interdisciplinary studies program. She wanted to explore the question of how social change is made and the traits of those who help make it happen.
After completing her undergraduate degree in 2009, Smith went back to NC State and received a masters in public administration and nonprofit management in 2012. Through her education, Smith says she developed a better understanding of nonprofits and was able to apply that to her work.
While Activate Good’s volunteer network is more than 4,500 strong, Smith says it isn’t just about helping people volunteer. Through it, she says she wants create a culture of volunteerism in the Triangle and beyond.
“We want volunteering to be as commonplace as shopping or going out to eat,” says Smith, who is the executive director of Activate Good.
That’s why, in 2009, Activate Good began work on Activate Schools, a curriculum for high school students that seeks to instill the importance of volunteering as a way to solve community issues. The program began during the 2010-11 school year at a few Raleigh-area high schools and is something Smith says she wish she had at that age.
“I think that disconnect in understanding what volunteerism was and how I couldn’t find my passion when I was in high school was something that prompted me to help others to find their passion,” she says.
Activate Good also organizes a volunteering effort in Raleigh each Sept. 11 for the 9/11 Day of Service. In 2013, 1,500 volunteers took part in more than 40 service projects around the city. Smith says she’d like to see even more volunteers next year.
In the years ahead, Smith says she’s looking in to way to make Activate Good financially sustainable while continuing to grow it. While working toward that goal isn’t always easy, seeing the difference her work is making keeps her going.
“The moments where you kind of see that real community change is occurring, I’d say those are the most rewarding,” she says.
Bill Allen likes to joke that he got his fill of the “ologies” at NC State. As a CHASS student in the mid-1970s studying sociology, anthropology and psychology, Allen says it was NC State professors who inspired him to go out and travel the world trying to solve ecological problems as an anthropologist.
But Allen began to trade in his “ologies” for his love of theater and music after his international travel throughout the 1990s had exposed him to European circus performers. And in the 2000s, he gave up anthropology altogether, a move that, to this day, raises some eyebrows.
“I still have people calling me,” he says, “and saying ‘Bill, I heard you ran off with the circus. Did you meet some tight-rope walker?’”
It turns out that Allen, a Shelby, N.C., native and childhood friend of David Thompson, did more than run off with the circus. He started one.
Allen is the executive director and producer for Cirque de la Symphonie, a performance company he co-founded in 2005 that blends the European circus tradition with symphony performances.
“You’ll see a mime who is a juggler and a contortionist who works to a melodic piece,” Allen says of the performances in the Cirque de la Symphonie, which makes its way to Raleigh Dec. 20-21. (The Alumni Association is hosting an event with Allen before the Dec. 20 performance.) “There’s a lot of aerial acrobatics. You’ll see people fly out over your heads. You don’t see that in any other cirque show.”
Allen says the idea came to him in the 1990s, when he made 38 trips through Russia. In his down time, he would take in the famed circus in Moscow. He would go early before the show and watch the performers practice.
With those connections, he started to serve as an informal pipeline for those performers to find their way onto American stages. He says it seemed only natural to marry performances to metropolitan orchestras, and he’s never had to look back.
“It’s the kind of thing people don’t get tired of,” he says. “It’s repeat business every year. It turned out to be more than a hobby. It’s serious business.”
William Consescu is a North Carolina-based author who was raised in New Orleans. After graduating from UNC and working for many years, he received his master’s degree from NC State’s creative writing program in 2004. He is just released his second novel, Kara Was Here. It works as a ghost story and a mystery as it follows the story of a life-of-the-party, larger-than-life actress who moves from New York from North Carolina and doesn’t make it.
Conescu will appear at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham on Tuesday, Nov. 12, and at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh on Thursday, Nov. 14. We caught up with him to ask him about his first ghost tale and his approaches toward writing.
Does the fact that you went to UNC and NC State feed into your being a tortured artist? I also worked at Duke for many years. I haven’t been big into the rivalry at all, but it’s worth a chuckle. I went to UNC. I graduated in ’95. There was a good pause before I went to NC State.
Do you consider yourself a Southern writer? I don’t know that I would call myself a “Southern” writer. Although, I’m certainly influenced by my Southern experience and family. Kara is set in North Carolina. That was fun to bring into my writing. That was the first time I put North Carolina in my fiction.
Who do you admire as writers? Classic writers. Edith Wharton. [Vladimir] Nabokov. Their subtle characterizations. Both of them building tension. The cookiness.
Your first novel, Being Written, was about a character’s struggle to be recognized by his author in a book. Kara Was Here is a more straightforward tale.What was different for you the second time around in writing the novel? The first book was metafiction. I figured I wouldn’t be writing a series of metafiction books. Kara Was Here has its own weirdness to it. Both books have this very significant characters’ absence. Kara is of course dead. But she’s one of the biggest characters. This is a more straightforward narrative.
What’s the writing process like for you? I’m not an everyday writer. I’m a sort of burst writer. I go in phases where I go and it’s consuming me. I start with the first chapter. I start with the scope of the story. There are characters you hope are engaging. There are enough questions to sustain the book. At some point I create an outline.
Where do you do most of your writing? Mostly at a desktop. I don’t really do as well on a laptop. I don’t write by hand any more. This is the first book where in the final pages I did some of the final editing with an iPad.
Was this your first foray into writing a ghost story? It was. I was thinking about how there’s a fine line between the spirit and the memory. We all see people we love in some way. You remember somebody you love that you lost. And you can evoke them. I thought it worked well to focus on three characters that were such at a point of change in their own lives, and Kara is the one person who can understand them.
Is there a lesson from your time at NC State that you return to when you write? My main teachers were Wilton [Barnhardt], John Kessel and Angela Davis-Gardner. They all influenced me in different ways. Wilton would always talk to me about the rules of the universe you create. It’s got an author and character. You don’t want to violate the rules, but you can surprise your reader.
The upcoming fall issue of NC State magazine includes articles on two alums — Vivian Howard and Vansana Nolintha — who have had tremendous success with restaurants that harken back to the cultures of their childhoods.
Howard, a 2000 NC State graduate, is the chef and co-owner of Chef & the Farmer, a seasonal, farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Kinston, N.C., not far from the farm in Deep Run, N.C., where Howard grew up.
Nolintha is the owner of Bida Manda, a Laotian restaurant in downtown Raleigh that pays homage to his parents and his native land.
We asked them to share recipes for our readers who wanted to try their hand at some of their culinary creations. Enjoy!
Howard’s Grilled Corn with Bacon Lime Mayo and Parmigiano Reggiano
To grill the corn…
Brush each ear of corn with olive oil. Over a medium grill, brown the corn on three sides. Remove from the grill, season each ear with salt and roll it around in the mayo. To serve, grate fresh parmigiano reggiano over the ears like snow. Serve with lime wedges.
Lime and Bacon Mayo
1 egg yolk
zest of 2 limes (removed with a microplane)
1/3 cup lime juice
1/2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. hot sauce (we use siracha)
1 garlic clove
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup bacon fat (melted)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Blend the first 8 ingredients until smooth in a food processor. Start streaming in the bacon fat slowly to emulsify and finish with the vegetable oil until nice and thick. Adjust seasoning with salt and lemon juice to taste.
Bida Manda’s Crispy Rice Lettuce Wrap
2 cups cooked jasmine rice
1 teaspoon curry spice
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup chopped mint
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1 tablespoon crispy fried garlic
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup crushed peanuts
Mix jasmine rice, curry, salt, and sugar in a small bowl. Mold the mixture into thick patties. Fry the patties until golden brown. In another bowl, break the patties into small pieces, and add cilantro, mint, green onion, fried garlic, peanuts, and lime juice. Toss until fully mixed. Wrap the mixture with fresh lettuce leaves.
Lisa Prince loves food and she loves North Carolina. She is the host of Flavor, NC, a show on UNC-TV that celebrates North Carolina agriculture and food. She appears regularly on WRAL-TV to make dishes made with North Carolina ingredients.
And, for the duration of the N.C. State Fair, Prince will oversee a dozen cooking contests that will see home cooks square off to see who has the best dishes that incorporate ingredients such as peanuts, apples, pecans and pork. Prince, a part-time marketing specialist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture, is in her 10th year overseeing the fair’s cooking contests. The N.C. State Fair begins today and will run through Oct. 27.
“I love food and I love cooking,” Prince said this week as she was setting up for the cooking contests that will be held each day throughout the fair. “I get inspired by the ideas I see here.”
The contests are divided by ingredient, with one contest focused on recipes using beef and another contest focused on recipes using sweet potatoes. In addition to eight contests involving North Carolina commodities, the fair hosts the early rounds of national contests for sponsors such as Spam and Pillsbury. The North Carolina winners of those contests may go on to compete nationally.
There are some regulars who compete every year, starting in the summer when the contest details are first released, Prince says. They start working on dishes then, trying to perfect them in time for the fall contests at the fair.
“Some of them are very good friends,” Prince says. “Some of them are very competitive.”
Prince, a 1993 graduate of NC State, is encouraged by the new contestants she sees every year. She was worried at one point that the contestants might age out, and that cooking contests would become a relic of times past. But she says there are plenty of contestants in their 30s and 40s, and several families who have younger generations of contestants.
“It gives those people who are not on t.v. a venue to showcase their talent,” she says. “They love winning that blue ribbon.”
Anywhere from 15 to 100 people compete in each of the individual cooking contests. Prince says that the sweet potato contests always draws a lot of entries. “In North Carolina, we love our sweet potatoes,” she says. “Everyone thinks they have a great sweet potato recipe.”
Prince says contestants also love to make desserts, with roughly 100 entrants in the Pillsbury pie contest this year. Prince has a fondness for contests for children who cook, often carrying on a long family tradition. She says a few men enter each year, often in the beef and pork contests.
Prince has seen a few flops (a cantaloupe pie from three years ago that didn’t quite set comes to mind) and plenty of hits (a blue cheese-pecan-apple dip from five or six years ago is still one of her favorites). She welcomes the attention the contests bring to cooking.
“They are developing recipes that can be shared,” she says. “I hope it inspires people to cook at home.”
While traditional Southern cooking once dominated the contests, Prince says she has seen a new emphasis on healthy cooking with fresh ingredients that mirrors what’s happening at seasonal and farm-to-table restaurants throughout the state.
“North Carolina is now such a mecca for food, on the cutting edge of flavor,” she says. “The contestants are picking up on that and stepping outside the box.”
Prince grew up on a family farm in Fuquay-Varina, N.C., and was a regular at the fair long before she got involved with the cooking contests. So she has her favorite fair foods, trying to get at least one each day during the Fair’s run. One day it’s a foot-long hot dog, the next day it may be a funnel cake. She looks forward to getting an ear of corn and splitting a giant turkey leg with friends.
She also enjoys the deep fried Oreos, but says, “You take one bite and you’re done. My advice is to split it with someone, maybe even three or four people.”
Kinston, N.C., is apparently enjoying its moment in the national spotlight.
Vivian Howard, a 2000 NC State grad who is the chef and co-owner of Chef & the Farmer restaurant in downtown Kinston, is the star of a new series, A Chef’s Life, airing on PBS stations around the country. The series focuses on Howard, her restaurant and her celebration of Southern food traditions.
But Kinston and many of its residents are front-and-center in the series, much of which is shot in the restaurant or with Howard as she visits local farmers or others in the community. The fifth episode of season (out of 13) aired last week, and Howard says the reaction has been almost entirely positive, both locally and nationally. She says the show is the most-searched cooking show on PBS Food.
“Our community is super excited about it,” she says. “Everyone is excited to be from Kinston again.”
The story of Howard’s gamble and ultimate success with Chef & the Farmer will be featured in the upcoming fall issue of NC State magazine. In the magazine article, Howard talks about her decision to leave New York City to return to her roots in Eastern North Carolina and open an upscale, seasonal restaurant in downtown Kinston, an area that has seen its share of economic difficulties.
“There’s a huge sense of pride in our community,” Howard says. “Everybody here likes the show.”
Everybody includes Howard’s parents, John and Scarlett Howard, who helped Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, with the financing to open the restaurant in 2006. Howard says her father, a 1962 NC State grad, has enjoyed talking about the show with the friends he routinely meets for breakfast.
“My parents are enjoying this tremendously,” Howard says. “I can’t tell you what a kick they’re getting out of it.”
The only criticism Howard has heard is from a few viewers who were confused about the segments when Howard explores Southern food traditions such as canning tomatoes or making strawberry preserves. Some viewers were upset that the segments didn’t provide full instructions in how to perform the task at hand, but Howard says they were never intended to be “how-to” segments. Instead, they are a chance for Howard to explore long-practiced food customs with members of the community.
Taping for the show’s second season is already underway, with filming for four of the 13 episodes largely finished.
Meanwhile, Howard says the show has prompted friends from high school and college to reach out to her after years of not being in touch. “It’s good to know it’s reaching people in other places,” she says. “Everybody’s been very gracious.”
But not everyone in Kinston is watching the show each week, which airs at 9:30 p.m. on Thursdays on PBS stations in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia (Check local listings for times in other markets). Howard saw the early versions of each episode, but says she can’t bring herself to watch herself each week.
“That’s pretty painful,” she says.
Peter Rizzolo spent most of his life loving fiction from afar but only had the chance to write in one genre — prescriptions. As a doctor, he practiced family medicine in New Jersey before moving to North Carolina in 1978 and spending 19 years in the Department of Family Medicine at UNC.
But when he retired, he came to NC State to pursue creative writing, something he had wanted to do since he was a child.
“When I was in fifth grade, I had a friend who drew very well,” remembers Rizzolo, who graduated from NC State with a master’s degree in English in 1999. “We put together a comic book. It was a Dick Tracy knockoff.”
Rizzolo eventually moved past the comics to more adult themes, and he recently self-published his second novel called Forbidden Harvest. Rizzolo describes it as “a medical thriller” that takes its lead from his experiences working as a doctor.
“Medicine is such a privilege,” he says. “People come to you and tell you various intimate things. You don’t always get to tell all the stories because of doctor-patient confidentiality. But when you call it ‘fiction’…”
Forbidden Harvest deals with the subject of organ transplants. It’s something Rizzolo has wanted to write about for a long time. He had a childhood friend who died from a kidney ailment at the age of 14. A few years after his death, Rizzolo says doctors began performing organ transplants, and Rizzolo has always wondered how things might have turned out differently for his friend. “In a story where a boy needs a new heart,” he says of his novel, “you can make it turn out how you want.”
Rizzolo says that writing certainly brings along its share of difficulties, from finding a way to get started to staying with it and developing thick skin. But, he says, his new novel shows that writing is the perfect pursuit for someone who spent decades practicing family medicine.
“You tend to write about what you know. And medicine is a really funny combination. It’s part medicine and part being a good listener. It’s not always performing a major operation, and sometimes it’s doing the little things to help.
“That’s what this story is about.”