INDY Week 4.14.21

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Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill April 14, 2021

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A new podcast from the creators of Serial explores voter fraud in a 2018 congressional race in Bladen County BY LEIGH TAUSS, P. 14


business spotlight business spotlight

BULL CITY COMMONS COHOUSING Reinventing the Way We Live Website: www.bullcitycommons.com Events (RSVP Virtual Open House, Information Sessions & Coffee Hours): www.bullcitycommons.com/events Available Unit: www.bullcitycommons.com/unit-306 Questions? bullcitycommons@gmail.com

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o you crave community, social connection, and a sense of belonging, while still maintaining your privacy and individuality? Cohousing could be for you! We are reinventing the way we live by self-developing a new urban cohousing community in Durham. Our lovely 5-story building, with 23 private homes, is designed to foster connection. We will have spacious indoor & outdoor common areas, including a shared kitchen/dining, shared laundry room, activity/lounge areas, a screened porch, terrace and wonderfully landscaped spaces on our property for gardening and social gatherings. Move-In November, 2021. We are walkable to Ninth Street shopping and dining, a short ride to Duke University, Downtown Durham, and Duke Gardens, yet nestled in a spacious green environment of towering trees, parks, and trails. Currently, only one unit is available: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths (1,295 SF). This unit includes parking, a balcony, and has large windows with a southern exposure creating a lightfilled living area overlooking the treetops and cityscape. Or if this unit size does not meet your needs, join our wait list!

Interested in learning more? We’d love to share about cohousing and why we are so excited about the community we are building. On Saturday, April 24th, we are hosting 2 events: a Virtual Open House (1-2pm EDT) (RSVP via our Events page or email us); and an In-Person Open House across the street from our building (currently under construction) at 610 Trent Drive from 3-4pm EDT. No RSVP needed ... just drop by!

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April 14, 2021

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Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 13

Hannah VanderHart, p. 20 PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

CONTENTS NEWS 7

The pollen apocalypse peaks this week. BY LEIGH TAUSS

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Durham leaders address COVID-19 vaccination disparities in Black and Brown communities. BY THOMASI MCDONALD

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Two Triangle tech experts are helping connect people with the vaccine.

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A trio of transphobic bills threatens the safety of trans residents across the state. BY SARA PEQUEÑO

BY CAROLYN DURHAM

FEATURE 14

The creators of Serial spotlight N.C. voter fraud in a new podcast. BY LEIGH TAUSS

WE M A DE THIS

ARTS & CULTURE 18

PUBLISHER Susan Harper

Two new albums contemplate the cosmos. BY JORDAN LAWRENCE AND DAN RUCCIA

19 The playwright Jim Grimsley reckons with mass migration in his gripping new play. BY BYRON WOODS 20 An interview with the poet Hannah VanderHart about her debut collection, What Pecan Light. BY COCO WILDER

E D I TO RI A L Editor in Chief Jane Porter Interim Managing Editor Leigh Tauss Interim A+C Editor Sarah Edwards Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño Copy Editor Abigail O'Neill

THE REGULARS 4 15 Minutes

5 Op-Ed

6 PHOTOVOICE

COVER Illustration by Jon Fuller

Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods Contributors Jameela F. Dallis, Michaela Dwyer, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Brian Howe, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Nick Williams

Interns Emma Lee Kenfield

C R E AT I V E Creative Director

Annie Maynard

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BACK TA L K

Last week for the web, Sara Pequeño wrote about proposed transphobic legislation that would prevent people under age 21 from accessing genderaffirming healthcare (read her deep dive on the legislation in this week’s issue on page 12). Our readers have thoughts about the bill.

“Just... why? What actual, material harm are they trying to mitigate with these laws?,” wrote Facebook commenter WILL DAUGHTRIDGE. “No one is, has, or legally *can* be forced to undergo any sort of gender-adjustment procedures they don’t want. Trans athletes are such a small subset as to have negligible impact on scholastic or professional sports–that the people who propose these “threats” generally don’t even watch–overall. And sexual assault is already a crime, regardless of who’s doing it or where. And they do a poor enough job prosecuting those laws to begin with.” “I am fed up with this reactionary General Assembly sticking their uneducated noses into medical treatments that should be between patient & Doctor,” wrote commenter DONNA ALDRIDGE. “How many doctors are in the North Carolina legislature and can honestly attest to treating Trans patients?,” wrote commenter MAX VINCENT. “I’m sick and tired of non-medical people trying to tell me what I can and cannot do to/with my body. I have a care team that is involved and hands-on with my transitioning. Those are the only folks who should be making medical decisions with me—not someone I haven’t met.” Commenter CYNTHIA CAMPBELL calls the bill “utterly inhumane.” MARGE PURNELL says it’s “too bad the repubs can’t mind their own effing business.” And MORGAN EDWARDS has the last word: “Please just leave us alone. I’m tired.”

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Raleigh

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15 MINUTES Isabelle Murphy, 17 Founder of Isabelle’s Stuffed Animal Drive BY EMMA KENFIELD backtalk@indyweek.com

Isabelle’s Stuffed Animal Drive collects stuffed animals to donate to child victims of trauma.

What inspired you to start your stuffed animal drive? When I was in the National Junior Honor Society, we had to do an independent service drive for a project. I started thinking about what in my life had made a big impact on me. [What] came to my mind was when my family moved here from Arizona. I was four years old. I lost my favorite stuffed animal [at] the grocery store. And I was absolutely distraught. I couldn’t sleep. My neighbor, who was 13 or 14, gave me one of her stuffed dogs to replace mine, because she saw a little kid crying who was terrified by a new house, a new neighborhood, new people. That one kind gesture from a teenager had such a big impact on me. And so I started thinking about all the children who deal with actual trauma — sexual violence, domestic abuse, natural disasters, roadway accidents, sex trafficking — and how terrified they must be.

Tell me about the drive and how it has grown. I started it in eighth grade when I was 13. I was originally collecting in my neighborhood in north Raleigh, then at my high school, Franklin Academy, and collected about 900 that first year. I collect the stuffed animals, wash them, and sort them based on which organization or contact I’m giving them to. Then I put them in bags and drive them to wherever they need to go, whether that be Virginia, different fire stations, police stations, or safe houses.

How did COVID-19 affect things? I was afraid when COVID hit. Things were crazy for everyone, and donating and giving up ... a comfort object in a time of uncertainty for children—I wouldn’t think that it was going to be high on people’s priority list. But people were actually more generous than in normal times. I’ve collected over 5,000 stuffed animals just this year, around half of what I’ve collected across the past five years.

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

Tell me a time when you realized this was worth it. During COVID, I held a drive outside in my neighborhood. Two little kids came up to me, crying, holding stuffed animals, and their mom was behind them. And she [said], ‘Hey, my kids really want to donate stuffed animals, and I’ve been trying to explain to them what’s going on and why, but I think it would sound better coming from you.’ Obviously, I can’t talk to a six-year-old about sex trafficking or domestic violence. You can’t say that to a kid. I got on my knees, and I was explaining to this little boy that there are kids in the world that are suffering. They’re scared. And when you’re scared, buddy, what do you go for? He [said], ‘I go for my stuffed frog.’ And I [said], ‘There are kids in the world just like you, but when they get scared, they don’t have a stuffed frog or a stuffed puppy or a blankie.’ And he [said], ‘Oh, well, I want them to.’ And he handed over his stuffed animals. W


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Hey, Liberals—it’s time to learn to live with big money in politics WED

BY BLAIR REEVES backtalk@indyweek.com

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here are few more-common complaints about American politics than bemoaning the role of “big money” in our elections. Though concerns about campaign finance surface more often in progressive circles, Americans of all ideological stripes report dismay at how central money has become in political campaigns. Every cycle, as the fundraising arms race ratchets up yet further, voters everywhere shake their heads in disgust at the spectacle of politicians scrambling for dollars. This frustration is understandable—and unfortunately, it is also futile. Cards on the table: I’m a liberal organizer turned reluctant fundraiser. Make no mistake, you will find no stronger supporter of campaign finance reform than me—a preference that has only intensified the more I’ve learned about how it actually works. (It’s all much worse even than you probably think!) But some time ago, I decided to set aside my distaste for the system we have in order to be more effective in it. I appeal to my fellow progressives to consider the same. To be blunt: our side needs to get over its constant apologia for raising money. “Big money” in politics is probably here to stay, and we must deal with that or pay for our idealism with irrelevance. Those of us who are fighting for progressive change need to adopt a bit more pragmatism in how we engage with this system. Why is campaign finance reform such a quixotic cause? There are three big reasons. The first is the most obvious: 2010’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision dealt a near-mortal blow to efforts to limit big money in elections. Overturning Citizens United would not only require an act of Congress, but also at least two seat changes on the Supreme Court. Don’t hold your breath.

Second, most voters don’t care much about it. Campaign finance is the kind of complicated topic that voters have a hard time understanding, even before all the misinformation offered about it. The vast majority of voters have other priorities—I mean, have you looked at the news over the last four years? We have to meet the voters where they are, not where we’d prefer them to be. The third reason is the most interesting. In short, the two parties are becoming less and less similar in how they finance their campaigns. This makes any compromise on campaign finance even more difficult, since it is much harder to find neutral reforms. To generalize, Republicans in North Carolina run a much more centralized fundraising operation than do the Democrats. To a greater extent than the other side, the N.C. GOP raises money for its state party and caucus leadership, which then turns around and transfers large sums into candidate campaign accounts based on estimated needs. (Turns out, Republicans love central planning!) Republicans also receive far more support from corporate “dark money” PACs, which are not supposed to be coordinated with the state party, but still mysteriously show up in all the most strategic races. Duke Energy and the NC Chamber of Commerce alone collectively spent millions boosting Republican legislative candidates last year. The Democrats certainly raise significant sums for their state party and caucuses too, but they do not have the same deep corporate support. But Democrats do have one significant advantage: small donors online. Millions of Democrats have adopted the behavior of giving to candidates online, and their combined power has morphed into a major aspect of Democratic campaign finance. The

large impact of small donor giving shows up in Democratic campaign finance reporting, where you see tens of thousands of contributors for random state House candidates. Of course, the two parties also do a lot of the same things too, but these “growth strategies” are where the real action is. And as these strategies grow and mature, each party will go to the mat to defend them— because they have to. Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of good campaign finance reform ideas that could improve this system. Setting hard limits on how much parties and caucus committees can transfer into candidate campaigns would force candidates to raise their own money. There could be maximum contribution limits on giving to parties themselves. Reducing the maximum contribution limit for businesses would be a check on the enormous corporate influence in our legislature. That’s just a start. But these are unlikely to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, there’s some good news: Democrats compete fine in this system. Republicans have big advantages, but so do we. Progressives (and our conservative friends) who are uncomfortable about the role of big money in our elections have good reason to feel that way. By all means, tell your representatives. But don’t kid yourself—changing this system will take a generation, if it ever happens at all. In the meantime, creating progressive change means winning elections. So go hit that ‘Donate’ button today. W

Clover Hope, The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop

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Morris Pearl, Erica Payne, The Patriotic Millionaires, Tax the Rich!: How Lies, Loopholes, and Lobbyists Make the Rich Even Richer 7PM Khalisa Rae, Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat: Poems 3PM Andrew Feiller, A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools That Changed America 7PM Ross King, The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance 7PM

All events are online. Register for Quail Ridge Books Virtual Events Series at www.quailridgebooks.com. www.quailridgebooks.com • 919.828.1588 • North Hills 4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh, NC 27609 Offering FREE Media Mail shipping and contactless pickup!

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Blair Reeves is the founder and executive director of Carolina Forward, a progressive policy non-profit dedicated to building a more prosperous North Carolina. Learn more at CarolinaForward.org.

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April 14, 2021

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Fascism Out of Raleigh WORDS + PHOTOGRAPHY BY JADE WILSON

Word leaked out about a “White Lives Matter” protest scheduled for Sunday in Raleigh, part of a nationwide group of protests planned in several cities across the country. As soon as anti-fascists and trans folks got the information, they organized a counter-protest. The organizing was immediately effective; “White Lives” organizers announced on the “WLM Raleigh NC” Facebook page that they were canceling their event, citing “safety concerns.” But that didn’t stop the counter-protest from happening. A trans-only gathering kicked off at 11 a.m. in Moore Square. Around 1 p.m., activists and members of the trans community joined others in the streets of downtown, circling around to Nash Square and making their presence in opposition to white supremacy known. W

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Triangle A pollen-covered windshield in Raleigh PHOTO BY LEIGH TAUSS

The Pollening North Carolina’s pollen apocalypse peaks this week BY LEIGH TAUSS ltauss@indyweek.com

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he pollenocalypse is upon us. As loblolly pines engage in their rapturous annual pollination, clouds of yellow snow billow in the air and coat every surface from cars to porches to your precious pet’s paws. Maybe you’re a nature lover, but if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably wondered as your windshield wipers smear golden dust across the glass: why does there have to be so damned much of it? And–more important–when will it go away? North Carolina State University forestry professor Robert Bardon says the pollen cycle began in March and has yet to reach maximum yellowing.

“It is probably going to reach peak production here [this week] and it will taper off fairly quickly after that,” Bardon says. Part of the reason it was so prominent last week on—well, everything—is that the Triangle hadn’t seen significant rainfall since March 31. That changed over the weekend, but worry not, the yellow snow has returned. Loblolly pollen has a large, smooth grain, which, in addition to sticking to everything, makes it more visible. Loblolly pines and oak trees depend on the wind to disperse their pollen from the species’ male flower to the female flower for reproduction. However, each pollen particle has an astronomically low chance

of actually fertilizing another plant, so loblolly has evolved to literally coat every surface with its tree sperm. “It’s a random chance that they connect, so plants produce a lot of pollen just to increase the probability of fertilization,” Bardon says. “Not all of it, obviously, is going to land on another plant– just look at our cars, our sidewalks, our street. They are all turning yellow under the current pollen production we’re seeing—but it’s a mechanism that trees have evolved and adapted to put as much pollen out so they have success.” I wondered what other ecological purpose pollen serves other than helping trees make more trees. Bees, for example, consume nectar from the flowers they help pollinate, forming a symbiotic relationship. But pollen, it turns out, really functions only to spawn more trees. Bardon says he isn’t sure if it directly benefits other species. After pollen season ebbs, Bardon says those with allergies must face their truest nemeses: grass and ragweed pollen, stronger irritants that will persist throughout the summer. “Plants flower at different times throughout the year so we move really from pollen season to pollen season,” Bardon says. “The only times it goes away is winter.” Your best bet for protecting yourself and your home from pollen is to take off your shoes upon entering the home and consider a change of clothes depending on when and how long you’ve been out. Pollen production tends to be highest earlier in the day, Bardon says, so the later you go out, the less you’ll be exposed. Bardon says that, while annoying, the yellow snow is necessary for life as we know it. The natural order literally hangs in the balance: no pollen, no plants, no critters, no us. “Without it, we just wouldn’t have our food system,” Bardon explained. “We’re so dependent on these plants and our system for us to survive and thrive as a society. Without the pollen, we just wouldn’t be in existence.”W INDYweek.com

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Durham

Trust Deficit Durham leaders address vaccination disparities BY THOMASI MCDONALD tmcdonald@indyweek.com

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homas McCoy pulled his white Acura into a parking space at Central Pharmacy on North Duke Street in Durham Saturday to receive his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. McCoy, who is Black, is well aware that some in the Black community are dead set against getting the COVID vaccine. “People are scared because of what happened years ago when they experimented on us,” McCoy, a 73-year-old lifelong Durham resident, told the INDY. “That’s still on their mind.” Those memories include the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, North Carolina’s early 20th-century eugenics program that sterilized thousands of Black women, and the tragic story of enslaved women subjected to brutal research often without anesthesia by James Marion Sims, considered the father of modern gynecology. Those memories hum in the background as Durham officials express concern over vaccination rates among people of color that are lagging behind vaccination rates among whites. On Thursday, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel shared comparative vaccination data with members of the city and county’s COVID-19 Recovery and Renewal Task Force. In Durham County, the data showed that 44 percent of whites, who account for about half of the population, had been partially vaccinated and 33 percent were fully vaccinated. By comparison, only 22 percent of African Americans, who account for 38 percent of the population, had been partially vaccinated, and only 17 percent were fully vaccinated. Among Latinx residents, who make up about 14 percent of the population, 17 percent had been partially vaccinated, with only eight percent fully vaccinated. 8

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“Latinx people are even more underserved at this point than African Americans in Durham,” Schewel told the INDY. For local officials, addressing inequity is a top priority. “Personally, this is very concerning to me,” Wendy Jacobs, vice chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, told the INDY about the vaccine inequities. “This needs to be our number one priority right now—addressing this equity issue. We need to look at best practices all over the country. We need to do every single thing we can.” Schewel agreed with Jacobs. “We have to get this done,” Schewel said. Last Thursday, the mayor issued a call to action on vaccine equity in an email sent to city and county officials, grassroots vaccine providers, public health officials, and others. “Despite the good efforts of so many people and institutions, we are not where we need to be,” Schewel wrote in the email, which he shared with the INDY. “Our Black and Brown communities are significantly underrepresented in the vaccine numbers, as you all know well. We cannot accept this.” “We know what we need,” the mayor later explained in an email to the INDY, “community outreach workers, trusted messengers, enough vaccination staff (there is a shortage), and—above all—distribution of vaccine doses to those vaccine providers who are serving people of color.” By late last week, there were 54 different vaccine locations throughout the county, which included grocery stores, pop-up events, and pharmacies along with sites in traditionally Black neighborhoods, such as North Carolina Central University, Lincoln Community Health Center, and churches.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CDC VIA UNSPLASH

Jerome Washington, pastor at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in the southern shadow of downtown, was one of about 20 pastors who last spring announced that their churches would remain closed for Sunday worship services to protect their congregations from the novel coronavirus. When the vaccines became available, Washington reopened the sanctuary’s doors to serve as an immunization site. “We have worked very hard to get to our people,” Washington told the INDY. “We have had two different sessions, with 200 people [receiving vaccines] each time.” Although chain pharmacies have garnered a lot of attention during the vaccine rollout, independent outlets have played a key role, too. They credit the county’s department of public health and state health officials who have provided the vaccines to every independent pharmacy that wants to immunize its patrons. Vip Patel, owner and manager of Gurley’s Pharmacy in downtown Durham, says the county’s department of public health “has done a fantastic job.” “Without them, this community would be devastated,” he says. Michael Verble, pharmacy manager at Central Pharmacy, says about 25 percent of the pharmacy’s customers are African American, and he says a “fairly high” percentage of those patrons have received their first dose of the vaccine.

“There’s a lot of trust built up over the years,” Verble says. “We’ve been here since 1981.” Patel says the majority of customers he serves are African American, adding that “there’s a sense among some of the patients that they don’t trust the vaccine.” Patel says while most of the pharmacy’s patrons who are 65 or older have already received the vaccine, the problem lies with African American patients who are under the age of 65 with underlying conditions. The issue often isn’t vaccine hesitancy, he says. It’s a function of poverty with patients whose medical condition has left them homebound; others are without transportation, or worse, homeless. “It’s not just one thing,” explains Patel, who adds that the pharmacy is working with caregivers who will travel to patients’ homes to administer the vaccines. Gurley’s is also trying to vaccinate the city’s homeless by partnering with local members of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, which travel to communities to distribute Naloxone and Narcan to help opioid addicts reverse the effects of an overdose. Patel’s willingness to think outside the box to administer more vaccines to Black and Brown residents is in concert with Schewel’s call for a new approach. “What we have done so far has not created the equity that we need, so we have to do some different things,” Schewel told the task force. W


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Triangle

The Vaccine Connection Two Triangle tech experts coordinated COVID vaccination appointments when doses were scarce and apprehension was high BY CAROLYN DURHAM backtalk@indyweek.com

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s COVID-19 vaccines rolled out at the beginning of the year, Marek Laska knew he would get the shot but his turn was still a long way off. Laska, a software engineer and co-founder of Research Square Platform, a Durhambased preprint server aimed at rapidly disseminating scientific research, wanted to understand how people were getting connected to vaccines. He noticed that, while vaccine doses were available, appointment slots at clinics and county events were going unscheduled. “It was heartbreaking to see the most precious commodity, the COVID vaccine, being underutilized,” Laska says. “Everyone I know wanted to be vaccinated. They just didn’t know how best to schedule an appointment.” So, using a series of bots, or pieces of software that automatically interact with websites as a human would do, Laska developed a system to help people he knew get vaccinated. The initial bot extracted data about vaccine distribution and utilization in North Carolina, allowing Laska to see which providers had vaccines. He then modified the program to show the locations of available vaccination appointments for scheduling. In January, Laska started using the system to sign up elderly friends and other eligible people he knew. His work spread by word of mouth. As talk of schools reopening began, local teachers, staff, and parents reached out to Laska for help, including at the Montessori Community School in Durham, whose staff used his system to get vaccinated in February.

The state’s changing criteria for vaccination eligibility created confusion which, Laska says, contributed to vaccine hesitancy and mistrust. So he approached Ranya Hahn, the human resources director at Participate Learning, a Chapel Hill-based education consulting company. Hahn developed webinars and small group sessions to distribute information and allow people to ask questions of experts in small group settings. “Open communication and a focus on positive messaging have enabled faster vaccination, with less fear,” Hahn says. “Highlighting what people look forward to after a year of isolation, like my colleague who is eager to hug her 101-yearold grandma again, is a reminder for people of what we’ve given up and what we all dare to hope for.” As Hahn and Laska worked to share information, Laska teamed up with his co-worker, Luciana Leopold, the systems innovation team manager at Research Square, to expand his program’s reach across the state as the vaccine rollout expanded. Throughout January and February, vaccine scarcity dominated the news cycle but inconsistent vaccine supply to a variety of locations, and ineffective messaging, meant that appointments were going unscheduled. “People sign up on a waitlist, but there are no timelines or feedback,” Leopold recalls of the process. “People … worried about ‘jumping the line’ or ‘waiting their turn’ rather than signing up if they are eligible.” The fact that each healthcare system— county and state—uses different processes and terminology added to the confusion.

Marek Laska

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

“Even when people are signed up, sometimes their appointment or an entire vaccination event is canceled without warning or explanation,” Leopold says. “People are now able to reach out to us to get information and schedule or reschedule their appointments instead of being left wondering what happened.” A modification to one of Laska’s vaccine bots allowed him and Leopold to monitor volunteer availability and encourage others to sign up to volunteer at vaccination sites. Rebecca Crawford, the deputy area command for Orange County’s COVID-19 task force and finance and administrative operations director for the Orange County Health Department says, now that the vaccine is open to basically everyone, volunteer positions, from traffic direction to vaccine administration personnel, are needed. “Our goal is to reduce barriers,” Crawford says. “We want to vaccinate everyone in our county and neighboring counties, and there is no way this could be done without volunteers.” Although his system is still private and works by way of word of mouth, Laska posts vaccine data to Twitter—his Twitter

handle is @1tamcap—and people can reach out to him for help finding vaccines and volunteer opportunities. In addition, Laska and Leopold do in-person outreach, going door-to-door to businesses around the Triangle and signing up people for appointments. These encounters build trust, they say, especially for people having trouble finding appointments or who are apprehensive of the government systems. Laska’s and Leopold’s efforts have connected around 200 people to vaccine appointments, including 50 restaurant workers who were unsure how to sign up. And they say they see their roles evolving. “I was surprised by how far our network that started in the Triangle extended throughout North Carolina and across the country as we connected with the friends and family within our sphere,” Leopold told the INDY in an email. “It has been heartening to see the level of compliance and eagerness to get vaccinated.” “We’ve gotten over a big hurdle,” Laska says. “[But] as booster shots are needed or variants emerge, we will be ready to tackle the system again.”W INDYweek.com

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North Carolina Sam-Levi Sizemore PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

Legislating Bodies A trio of transphobic bills in the N.C. General Assembly may not pass into law, but their existence threatens the safety of trans people across the state BY SARA PEQUEÑO spequeno@indyweek.com

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am-Levi Sizemore spent the first year of high school being called the wrong name. Sizemore, a transmasculine genderqueer person who uses he/they pronouns interchangeably, came out to his parents three weeks before the start of ninth grade. There had been slip-ups before, like when some friends’ dad called them his new chosen name, “Sam,” in a text conversation with his mom. Still, the Sizemores were taken aback when their teenager told them he wasn’t a girl. Since their parents were slow to get onboard, the high school was, too. Sizemore’s paperwork kept their deadname that first year, so their teachers called them that. 12

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Many realized the change only when “Sam Sizemore” was printed in the yearbook. He started testosterone injections their first year of college at UNC-Chapel Hill through the university’s campus health services. His voice deepened, and they had more body hair. Soon, people started assuming he was a man instead of a woman. Sizemore says it made his existence safer. “Medical transition isn’t for everyone, not every trans person wants to medically transition, and there are a lot of examples of trans people who haven’t,” they say. “But medical transition makes being trans so much

safer, because I can choose when I want to tell people I’m trans.” Sizemore is 19 years old. If a new bill in the General Assembly passes, it wouldn’t be legal for him to continue hormone therapy. On April 5, three Republican senators filed the “Youth Health Protection Act” under the guise of “protecting minors.” The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Ralph Hise from Spruce Pine, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. The N.C. Family Policy Council—the state’s chapter of Family Research Council (which is a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group)—issued a statement in support of the legislation, calling it “an essential measure to protect the health, safety, and welfare of adolescents, teens, and young adults,” and citing a common statistic from a debunked 2013 study that suggests the majority of trans kids ultimately identify as cisgender. In reality, the bill effectively criminalizes being trans under the age of 21. It has provisions banning people from medical procedures including hormone blockers, hormone replacement therapy, and mastectomies. It has a provision allowing parents to withhold treatment for their child, even if the “child” is 20 years old. It has a provision requiring teachers and government employees to tell parents or guardians if their child “demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent with the minor’s sex:” a vague provision that could target the length of a young person’s hair, the clothes they wear, or the hobbies they pursue. This isn’t the only transphobic bill on the docket. The group also filed the “Health Care Heroes Conscience Protection Act,” which would allow medical practitioners to deny healthcare based on their own personal beliefs. The bill keeps these medical professionals from being fired or reprimanded for withholding care from trans people. There’s also House Bill 358, a bill that would bar trans women and girls from playing on women’s sports teams. All of these bills were filed around the fifth anniversary of H.B. 2, North Carolina’s infamous “Bathroom Bill” that restricted trans people’s access to public spaces, and appear in the wake of a series of bills filed to protect LGBTQ residents in the state from discrimination. For years, a provision in H.B. 2’s pseudo-repeal kept LGBTQ-related laws off the books. That changed in December 2020—now, six municipalities have added protections for trans people in their communities. The discriminatory bills are also part of a larger, coordinated movement in states across the country targeting trans people—similar bills have been filed in more than 25 states. “It seems reactionary, on the surface, to the bills that we introduced earlier, but we feel that it’s really reflective of this coordinated national attack by a very small group of people and organizations who work with legislators and introduce these bills,” says Allison Scott,


“I know I will be much better off in cis society once I’ve had top surgery.” the director of impact and innovation at the Campaign for Southern Equality. She notes that bills filed across the country use similar language and have been filed close together. Getting gender-affirming medical care is already difficult in North Carolina. Sizemore opted out of therapy before getting on testosterone, but still had to consult with a doctor for months to “prove” his transness. He says he’s heard of some people downplaying their depression or anxiety to get access to hormones. Others have to exaggerate their dysphoria to convince cisgender doctors that their lives would be better after medical transition. If this bill gained traction, Sizemore would have to stock up on testosterone, or risk the health complications that come with getting off it. They’re also saving up for top surgery, a double mastectomy that would give them a more masculine chest. If the bill passed, they’d have to get their surgery before the October start date, which would likely mean having to take time off from school for recovery. “As much as I would love to be comfortable in my body, and not need to go on hormones or pursue top surgery, in reality, I’m uncomfortable,” he says. “I do love my body, and it’s taken me a long time to be able to say that fully, but a part of it is that I know I will be much better off in cis society once I’ve had top surgery.” It can be easy for cis people to write off these bills as “non-issues,” since Gov. Cooper is likely to veto them. But doing so ignores the harm that comes from these bills in the first place. Scott says that when these bills are filed, there is a noticeable spike in calls to trans support lines, especially ones focused on trans youth suicide prevention. “When they are in these early places— discovering who they are, coming out, or whatever that looks like for them—to introduce these kinds of bills at the same time adds a state-sponsored pressure to them and their lives,” Scott says. “It gives them a message that there may be a point where they can’t talk to anyone.” W INDYweek.com

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ILLUSTRATION BY JON FULLER

BALLOT BANDITS A new podcast from the makers of Serial unearths the deeply rooted political rivalry behind Bladen County’s 2018 congressional election fiasco BY LEIGH TAUSS

ltauss@indyweek.com

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I. Before anyone knew much about what went wrong with Bladen County’s absentee ballots during the 2018 congressional election, one thing was clear: McCrae Dowless had something to do with it. Dowless was a soft-spoken chain smoker who cut a slim figure, with sandy gray hair and a trimmed beard. His hooded, puppy-dog eyes stared somberly from news feeds as allegations of election tampering in North Carolina consumed the national media. The ex-con had become deeply ingrained in Bladen County politics over the last decade as a savvy political operative. Dowless had worked on Republican Todd Johnson’s 2016 congressional run, where, despite failing to secure a primary victory, Johnson raked in a majority of absentee votes. This caught the attention of Mark Harris, a local pastor and proto-typical right-wing can-

didate in the majority-white district, who enlisted Dowless’s support in his 2018 congressional run. Dowless was the kind of guy who knew everyone in Bladen. He was charismatic, polite, and skilled in the art of getting people to do what he wanted. In the movie version, Dowless would be played by Edward Norton, NPR reporter Zoe Chace says. But in Chace’s version of the story, a five-part podcast from the makers of Serial premiering this week, Dowless is an enigma. In the year-plus she spent reporting the story on the ground in Bladen, Dowless never agreed to an interview with Chace, only tempting her in his quiet, Southern drawl with hushed “off the records” she couldn’t use. “McCrae, he’s cinematic,” Chace said last week during an interview with the INDY. “He’s sort of a ghost that haunts the story of the podcast.” Instead, “The Improvement Association,” a joint venture between Serial Productions and The New York Times which premiered Tuesday on streaming platforms, tells a more complicated story than what played out before the public eye, bringing to light a deep-seated political rivalry. In the first episode, we learn that the Improvement Association is actually a local political PAC of Black Democrats struggling to gain power in the district. In 2010, the PAC’s leader, Horace Munn, had a stroke of genius that coincidentally would become the prominent political strategy in 2020’s presidential election: using absentee ballots to drive Democratic voter turnout in the county sheriff’s race. It worked. That year, by just 300 votes, the mostly white Bladen County elected its first Black sheriff, Prentis Benston. And that’s where the story really begins, Chace says: with a bunch of white people pissed off that Black voters had put a Black man in charge. Six years later, Dowless, who had recently been elected the district’s soil and water supervisor, would issue a protest to the N.C. Board of Elections alleging the Democratic party had engaged in fraud by concocting “a blatant scheme to try to impact the voting results of an entire county and perhaps even sway statewide and federal election,” using absentee ballots. Republican Governor Pat McCrory, who had just lost to Democrat Roy Cooper, was quick to jump on the election fraud bandwagon but the complaint was dismissed, “citing a lack of substantial evidence of a violation of election law or other irregularity or misconduct sufficient to cast doubt on the results of the election,” according to a State Board of Elections statement.


Two years later, in 2018, the board would find evidence of election fraud– from Dowless. In a historic move, the board refused to certify Harris’s congressional win and called for a new election in early 2019. Dowless was later indicted for ballot tampering, perjury, solicitation, and obstruction of justice. Dowless’s strategy was an unlawful mutation of Munn’s 2010 strategy: employing a team of unwitting or willfully ignorant co-conspirators, including the daughter of his ex-wife, Dowless facilitated the forgery of signatures with different colored pens on real ballots he had collected and hoarded in his home. Dowless is currently awaiting trial. But Dowless isn’t the story here; at least, not the whole story.

II. When Chace received a phone call from Horace Munn following the 2018 election blowout, news articles plastering Dowless’s face were speckling her newsfeed. She’d interviewed Munn in 2016 when reporting for NPR’s This American Life on Republicans’ rabid appetite for allegations of voter fraud that year, which led her to Bladen. Republicans had been insinuating widespread voter fraud for years as a way to dispute losses and facilitate the passage of restrictive voting laws that courts have since ruled “target African American voters with almost surgical precision.” In 2016, state GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse thought he’d found the smoking gun in Bladen—a series of ballots that appeared to have been filled out by the same person. Woodhouse was right, but only partly. Volunteers from the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC had helped voters fill out their absentee ballots. But technically, it wasn’t illegal—they weren’t bribing voters, nor were they filling out the ballots without their permission. So when Munn called Chace again in 2019, offering her the origin story behind the national story, she took the bait. “The world that [Munn] painted in Bladen County was so fascinating and so rich and also took so long to unravel that that’s why I ended up telling the backstory of this election fraud scandal,” Chase says. “Also, though, you don’t see this happen to congresspeople. Election fraud does happen, but it’s usually in a local way and not for a federal race, not for a congressman. It is a big deal that it got to that point.” INDYweek.com

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Returning to Bladen in the spring of 2019, Chace found herself doing bootson-the-ground reporting. Bladen County is rural, and in some places, the phones don’t work too well. Folks weren’t responding to texts or emails, so she had to do a lot of reporting face-to-face. Sometimes it just came down to luck. When tracking down one source, a barber and friend of Dowless, Chace said she had to figure out which of two barbershops he’d be working at that day. “There were just a lot of times that you would go chase somebody and have to chase them around a few places—calling them wasn’t necessarily going to work— and you might never find them, to be honest,” Chace says. “There would be some people I had on my list just to try and it would take 11 months to at least get an answer from their mom that they didn’t want to talk.” “It’s kind of fun,” Chace adds, “in a way, for a reporter, ‘cause you’re just running around, but it’s harder when you can’t use your computer and your phone to do everything.” But then COVID-19 happened. Chace recalls being in Bladen for the Democratic primary and overhearing someone worrying about the stock market because of a new virus from China. At the time, it seemed like such a random concern. But the next time she visited town, everyone was wearing masks and social distancing. Her crew used a longer microphone pole and she worried sources would be more reticent. “It’s really hard to go up to somebody’s front door and knock on their door anyway, cold,” Chace says. “And if it’s during the pandemic, it’s just worse. It’s more anxiety and you feel like the person is going to be angry at you when they open the door because it’s really obvious you’re not supposed to bust in on strangers at this moment.” Luckily, she’d already been reporting on the story for several months by the time COVID arrived, but it would take almost another year to nail it down. Serial producer Nancy Updike praised Chace’s tenacity. “Zoe really digs in and she got the story behind the story, and then she got the story behind the story behind the story,” Updike says. “Building it out, it didn’t feel like this is something that people will skim and think, “I already know this.” I think it’s going to feel like there’s a lot here, even for people who read about these events in real time.” Early on in reporting the series, Chace met with Pat Gannon, the State Board of 16

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Producer Nancy Updike and Reporter Zoe Chace

Elections spokesperson. Gannon would help Chace track down records requests, such as emails and documents from Bladen County elections dating back 10 years or more. “She’s persistent, for sure,” Gannon says. “I haven’t heard the whole story yet so there are some things I may be surprised about when the podcast comes out...I’m eager to see what her reporting has uncovered about elections.”

III. Fans of Serial, after two seasons focusing on the Hae Min Lee murder mystery’s insular small-town drama, may balk at the idea that election fraud could possibly be as compelling. But for Updike, it’s a very Serial-esque story: a character-driven slow burn where interpersonal feuds reach a boiling point. “I don’t think it’s very different from Serial because I don’t think of Serial as a true-crime show,” Updike says. “It’s a deep dive that is full of characters who you hear a lot from and it does get at some bigger thoughts and ideas but it really is about these people and the very real stakes of what’s happening in their lives. This is an election documentary about how high the stakes are in local elections during a time when the national conversation about election fraud is playing out in its own way in this very tight community where people have known each other for decades and fight elections really hard.” That battle included routine allegations of election fraud thrown out as a politi-

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION

cal strategy, so much so that one Board of Elections official Chace interviewed claims he visited Bladen “constantly” because there were so many accusations. The last episode of the podcast is still under production. I asked Chace what she thinks the moral of the story is, if there is one. “We are still writing the end,” Chace says. “Something I’ve thought about is just how sticky these [election fraud] accusations can be. In a grander sense, it does seem, despite a lot of these claims of election fraud in 2020 being disproven, there are laws being passed to combat those accusations.” “But [in Bladen], the sticky election fraud accusations result in relationships getting hurt, result in people making choices that, maybe instead of gaining them political power, are going to set them back,” Chace continues. “There’s just a long, wandering shelf life to election fraud accusations and it’s hard to get the chance to see how they worm their way through people’s lives. But we got that chance in Bladen. I liked seeing the personal ramifications.” As for McCrae Dowless, he didn’t want to comment for this story, either. When he answered my phone call with his congenial drawl, he seemed almost apologetic that his lawyers had advised him not to speak with reporters. “I’m making no comment to anyone,” Dowless said, politely. “That’s what I’m doing, not disrespecting anyone. But at this time, I’m not making any comment.” “No disrespect to anybody,” he said, once again. W INDYweek.com

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Reviews

Cosmic Noise Albums by Field Works and duo Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles contemplate our place in the world with compassionate spoken word and ebullient instrumentals BY JORDAN LAWRENCE AND DAN RUCCIA music@indyweek.com

FIELD WORKS: CEDARS

HHHH [Temporary Residence; March 5]

Per his website, the goal of the musician and artist Stuart Hyatt’s projects, including his experimental Field Works album series, is “to tell evocative stories about our complicated relationship with the natural world.” Field Works utilizes different musicians for each of these explorations, and often builds from the National Geographic Explorer’s audio recordings of nature. The sprawling 2020 double album Ultrasonic, for instance, uses the echolocations of bats as a compositional and thematic frame. Less than a year later, Field Works returns with Cedars. Focusing on ancient forests, the album again reckons with the world, our place in it, and the toll of our often destructive nature.The two sides feature different instrumentalists, a few of them local to the Triangle—Danny Paul Grody, Bob Hoffnar, Tomás Lozano, Fadi Tabbal and Dena El Saffar on the first; Marisa Anderson, Nathan Bowles, Alex Roldan and Hoffnar on the second. On the first, Lebanese musician and musicologist Youmna Saba (who also contributes oud) performs eight of her own poems in Arabic. On the flip, Durham singer-songwriter H.C. McEntire recites English poems by Todd Fleming Davis. The Saba-led half is enchanting and unsettling. Pedal steel, oud, and other hard-to-place sources of distortion and drone pool, resigned but anxious, as acoustic guitar fizzes and juts. Saba’s vocal performance is a marvel. Her mellifluous narration and hypnotic tremolo when singing showcase Arabic’s beauty as a language, and bring a sense of hardfought peace to considerations of our fleeting corporeal existence—“She spreads her arm to touch the ancient 18

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earth and descends gradually into the labyrinth of its compassionate depths,” reads one translated passage in the liner notes. Perhaps the Earth shouldn’t be so forgiving. Davis’ poems center on a girl whose ancestors “sailed across the ocean in ships built of cedar” after cutting down ancient forests. She lives in the shadow of “machines that can make a mountain disappear, no regard for the memory or souls of trees.” Her mother brings her an inhaler as she struggles to breathe when her father sprays chemicals on their fields, “the world, as we’ve remade it, settl(ing) in her chest.” McEntire’s narration is calm, collected and deeply empathetic, expressing concern for both the girl and the land. Anderson’s acoustic guitar and Bowles’ banjo pick with insistent momentum, suggesting humanity’s unstoppable consumption. Pedal steel and other ambient embellishments intimate the apprehension of viewing this “progress” through a longer lens. Organically connecting Western and Middle Eastern musical traditions, and offering keen reflections on how we treat our world, Cedars is an album worth many returns. —Jordan Lawrence

BILL MACKAY AND NATHAN BOWLES: KEYS

HHHH [Drag City; Apr. 9]

In some ways, it’s really easy to write about a record of gamboling acoustic tunes like the ones Chicagoan Bill MacKay and Durhamite Nathan Bowles unspool in their new album, Keys. The metaphors are all there: Travel, rolling hills, a connection to some kind of mythical folk past. Heck, the

two even have a song called “Joyride” that is all those things and then some. Its five sun-soaked minutes are positively ebullient, built around a droning claw-hammer riff in Bowles’s banjo intercut with ricocheting guitar lines in MacKay’s guitar. After a few tension-building chord changes, they settle back into a loose jam and let things amble as some piano squiggles dance in the background. It’s somehow a near-perfect sonic encapsulation of the moment when, driving through the mountains, you crest a hill just in time to see the sunset over a tree-filled valley. It feels designed for the moment when spring eases into summer. But there is more to this album than those easy, runaway metaphors suggest. Both Bowles and MacKay are master improvisers—Bowles with the post-everything group, Pelt, amongst numerous others, MacKay with the experimental rockers Darts & Arrows—alongside their love of folk music. That depth shows. It’s hiding in the organ drone which colors the album-opening “Idumea,” draping their stately, bending interpretation of this already-portentous shape note song with extra hues. Or in the acid-jazz feel of “Truth,” whose winding chord progressions are worthy of anything off a Tim Buckley or Ryley Walker (with whom MacKay has collaborated often) album. I was struck by the tension between Bowles’s alternating banjo notes and MacKay’s thundering guitar chords aided by some more subtle piano work from Bowles. Those two threads come together in “Late for Your Funeral Again.” MacKay’s lyrics draw upon seemingly timeless nature imagery—“Let’s turn back to the stars, my friend / The mountain’s tired of us now”—and gritty determination to paint a portrait of loss that’s all too contemporary. As the guitar and banjo gently chug along, they seem to put a little extra emphasis on the sound of picks hitting strings, as if inking the song with extra thick outlines. It’s that attention to detail that makes every song here sparkle and, along the way, freshens up all the stories that folk music always wants to tell. —Dan Ruccia W


STAGE

CASCADE | The Process Series; UNC Chapel Hill | Livestream performances: Apr. 16-17, 7:30 p.m. $10 suggested donation | processseries.unc.edu

Jim Grimsley PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

quickly, we can ensure at least the survival of something, possibly the survival of a civilization. If we devote ourselves to the technological possibilities out there, we can make it better. But we can’t stop it. In Cascade, I wanted real people to have to cope with it, and not to give up, because I think that’s realistic. There will be people who give up, but there will be people who don’t.

2021

Down Home Concerts

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Friday, May 7

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Balsam Range

Primo Levi’s “the drowned and the saved.” Yes.

Flight Risks North Carolina playwright Jim Grimsley discusses Cascade, his gripping new climate change drama BY BYRON WOODS arts@indyweek.com

N

orth Carolina novelist, playwright, and memoirist Jim Grimsley’s broad body of work over the last four decades has ranged from incisive examinations and critiques of the economic and social schisms shaped by Southern racism, poverty, and homophobia, to fantastic visions of futures and otherworlds populated by creatures as fallible and vulnerable as ourselves. Along the way, he’s won two Lambda Literary Awards, the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award, the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Award, and citations from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and PEN America. In his latest work, the near-future drama Cascade, mass migrations following the first waves of the now-unfolding global climate crisis have taken social order to the brink of chaos. Grimsley’s work provides a surprisingly intimate view of two Southern families on the edge of an apocalypse, running for their lives. Joseph Megel directs a staged reading for UNC’s works-in-progress Process Series this week. Ahead of the production, the INDY sat down with Grimsley to discuss his work.

INDY: You wrote this work in response to The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, David Wallace-Wells’ worstcase scenario on global warming, in January 2020. Then, the pandemic hit. GRIMSLEY: We were writing about catastrophe—and all of a sudden, the world was overtaken by a catastrophe of an entirely different sort. And I thought, ‘Well, this is actually a rehearsal for what’s to come.’ What we’ve been through is so extraordinary: an event that everyone in the world has shared and that everybody in the world will point back to forever. That’s not a usual thing outside of warfare. But it is a kind of prelude to what’s going to happen. You do think a catastrophe like you depict is going to happen? Yes. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to destroy us. I don’t believe in hopelessness; I cut my teeth in the era when we were going to be destroyed by the nuclear bomb. I don’t believe the language of “We’re going to destroy the planet” is at all helpful. The planet is going to be just fine. We’re the ones at risk; our place in all of this is what’s under threat. If we act

Hannah Arendt said evil is a problem of the imagination. We have such difficulty, I think, simply imagining a world where our status is no longer quo. I think we have to remember that the “we” in this case is a very narrow segment of humanity. A good deal of the world already lives in disaster—day-to-day, perpetual disaster. I do think we are going to turn out to have been in a ‘blessed’ set of generations who lived through a remarkable time of plenty and tranquility. And there’s so many signs that’s just not going to be around in the future. When reading [Wallace-Wells], I began to understand, very specifically, that this was going to destroy the future of my own family, my nephews, nieces, and my great-nephews and nieces. The people we think we’re raising now to live a life very much like ours are going to face a future where perhaps all of that is going to be taken away from them. I’m not even talking about political disaster. We’re going to compound it with political disaster. It’s inevitable. Eras of massive migration are eras when nations collapse, and new nations arise. But in this case, the wave of migration may not stop for a long time. Because it isn’t just political instability chasing them; humans can’t live where they were anymore. And not in small parts of the world: large parts of the world. There’s no pleasant way to look into this. You’ve got to be willing to open yourself up to the loss of the world that you know, and so many of us clearly can’t do that. W

Thursday, May 20

The Bluegrass Experience 50TH ANNIVERSARY featuring TOMMY EDWARDS, SNUFFY SMITH AND FIDDLIN’ AL MCCANLESS

Thursday, June 10

Fireside Collective with GRAHAM SHARP

Thursday, June 17

Amythyst Kiah with ALEXA ROSE Friday, July 9

Molly Tuttle

All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Downtown Raleigh Limited capacity, socially distanced seating; masks required | Livestream tickets available

ADDITIONAL SPONSORS: Irregardless Cafe, Our State Magazine

pinecone.org • Box Office: 919-664-8333 INDYweek.com

April 14, 2021

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PAGE

HANNAH VANDERHART: WHAT PECAN LIGHT

[Bull City Press; April 20]

Root Words Talking with the poet Hannah VanderHart about her emphatic, illuminating debut poetry collection, What Pecan Light BY COCO WILDER arts@indyweek.com

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t would be wrong to call Hannah VanderHart’s poems masterful, though at times it is tempting to, anyway. In “When Someone Says a Poem Is Masterful,” a poem near the end of her first full-length collection, What Pecan Light, the speaker asks, “who wants to master the body of a poem? (no one should).” A beat later, an admission: “I have a master in my family tree / Jack Allums / he will always be there.” These are poems that meet the white reader on a common ground, sometimes even the literal ground of a chicken coop, as in “When We Are Not Talking About Race In The South We Are Talking About Race In The South,” and then swiftly ask what is it to farm and be farmed, to cultivate and to reproduce a system of violence. And so VanderHart unsteadies the ground, which might be common but is far from neutral. VanderHart, also an editor and educator, is an active member of local and online poetry communities and co-organized the Little Corner Reading Series while she was an English PhD candidate at Duke University. What Pecan Light illuminates—decisively, and with lyrical precision—is how white supremacy is as inherited and intimate as the recipes shared over supper. “To make will always be better” she writes, “than to master.” INDY: At what point did whiteness become a central question of What Pecan Light? HANNAH VANDERHART: The first poem

I wrote for this collection, “Confederate Statues are Falling This Morning,” I wrote after a fight with my mother, instigated by the tearing down of the Confederate soldiers monument in front 20

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of the Old Durham Courthouse. To write the poem, I had to go further back than the historical moment inciting the poem—I had to go to my grandmother’s house in Ruston, Louisiana, to the polluted lake by her house, to the turtle I pulled from it. (Carl Phillips writes, “We thought we knew a thing. Now we know it differently. That’s the effect of the poem on its maker…”). Going deeper into the question of the complicity of whiteness has been both the labor and the birth of this collection. Where did you find the archival material at the core of these poems?

We each have an archive—oral, written, forgotten sometimes—in our families. In my experience, the written is often the bare bones of it. When you do genealogy work on a family tree, you look for birth date, death date, and marriage to make sure someone belongs there. This has obvious limits. Talking with my father has been a good part of the poems’ archive—I learned things I had not known before about my grandfather’s chicken farm (the second-largest farm in Louisiana, my father always said). My brother uncovered the newspaper clipping with my grandfather’s words about the farm. Other poets are also a vital part of the archive, and an aid in filling in the gaps, learning what silences you are looking for when you consider yourself as a historical person in the world. We don’t actually know that much by ourselves, without others. [Natasha] Trethewey’s Beyond Katrina transformed what I thought I knew about the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and Claudia Rankine knocked down doors of my thinking, regarding personal narratives and the American lyric.

Hannah VanderHart

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

What can you tell me about craft and your writing process?

Line is probably my favorite part of revision—discovering a line is off by a single word, or that all the lines in a poem are. Line is the revision element that feels most like play to me. While I have a background in metrical form, I admit I find any particular number of metrical feet less interesting than breath as meter (iambic pentameter has been noted to be a line of breath, so that works for some). C.D. Wright, one of my favorite poets, had an attachment to Williams Carlos Williams (she wrote a beautiful introduction to Spring and All), so that’s one line of craft descent I would pull to name my own engagement with line/breath. You’ve just launched a new poetry journal; how are you building its editorial ethos?

Moist Poetry Journal was born from the desire for an inclusive, playful space for poetry. The grounds for disliking the

word “moist” are often gendered, with (at least) a shadow of misogyny. I think the most exciting poetry being written now is by poets that dissolve borders—physical, bodily, geographic, formal. Poets like Rachel Zucker, who embrace the “contaminants” of their poetry. Moist has poems forthcoming from a volunteer firefighter in Arkansas, a medical student in England, a young writer in Mumbai. Moist also means fresh. That’s what I’m looking for in selecting poems. Anything else you’d like to share about the collection and how readers can support it?

I’d love to shout out Ross White of Bull City Press for creating the publishing space for What Pecan Light—please buy books from our small and local presses, and great bookstores like Golden Fig Books. Also, I’m leading a virtual workshop via Scuppernong Books in Greensboro on April 29 called “Digging Up Bones: Writing Your Past,” and would love to see folks there. W


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