INDY Week 5.26.21

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Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill May 26, 2021



ISSUE Small weddings, big commitments, and saying ‘I do’ in a changing world P. 9

Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill

Gavin Christianson Bridal p. 11 PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

VOL. 38 NO. 19



A proposed property tax hike will pay for parks and affordable housing in Raleigh. BY JANE PORTER The N.C. Supreme Court is studying a series of death penalty cases. The outcome could effectively end capital punishment in the state. BY LEIGH TAUSS


A Chapel Hill anti-racist activist was convicted for using "fighting words."


Local crowdfunding service Brij aims to connect customers to their favorite businesses in lasting ways. BY LENA GELLER



Tiny weddings, big love stories. BY LENA GELLER A size-inclusive downtown Durham boutique makes for a perfect fit.


When conflicts over masks and vaccines shake up your guest list.



An interview with former New York Times wedding announcement writer Cate Doty. BY LEIGH TAUSS 15 A peek into the grandest room in Raleigh's new Heights House Hotel. BY JANE PORTER


16 Is there a new chapter for The Lost Colony? BY FRED WASNER 19 Cartoonist Max Huffman's offbeat new comic book draws from places around the Triangle. BY ZACK SMITH 20 A new book of life stories told from death row. BY THOMASI MCDONALD


3 15 Minutes COVER Design by Jon Fuller


Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald


Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño

Editor in Chief Jane Porter Managing Editor Geoff West Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards

Copy Editor Abigail O'Neill Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods

Interns Emma Lee Kenfield

Senior Writer Leigh Tauss


May 26, 2021

Contributors Madeline Crone, Jameela F. Dallis, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Layla Khoury-Hanold, Brian Howe, Lewis Kendall, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Jake Sheridan



Creative Director

Director of Sales John Hurld

Annie Maynard Graphic Designer

Jon Fuller Staff Photographer

Brett Villena

Raleigh Sales Manager MaryAnn Kearns

C I RC U L ATI O N Berry Media Group

INDY Week |


P.O. Box 1772 • Durham, N.C. 27702 Durham: 320 East Chapel Hill Street, #200 Durham, N.C. 27701 | 919-286-1972 Raleigh 919-832-8774 Durham 919-286-1972 Classifieds 919-286-6642

Raleigh: 16 W Martin St,Raleigh, N.C. 27601

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Last week, writer Sara Pequeño chronicled UNC-Chapel Hill leaders’ comments on the Board of Trustees’ unprecedented decision not to offer acclaimed journalist and UNC alumna

Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure as the school’s Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. Our readers had some things to say. “The Board, political appointees all, amounts to little more than Thought Police, exactly like the hard-right conservatives in the Assembly who appointed them,” wrote Facebook user DAVID STREIFFORD. “We know what they are. They’re Republicans. Also known as ignorant monsters. Destroy without knowledge is their motto,” wrote commenter HARRIETTE OWEN GRIFFIN. “I see their bigotry,” commenter ROBIN CUBBON said succinctly. We also published a letter from UNC students addressing the Board of Trustees’ decision on our website. Most of our readers who saw it applauded the students’ letter. “Powerful, inspiring letter from young leaders explicitly addresses the cowardice of our institutions,” tweeted BERKELEY B STEWART. “This thoughtful and poignant letter makes me proud to be an alum. I stand with you,” tweeted JACI FIELD. As always, the naysayers weighed in. “Nothing egregious here,” wrote Facebook commenter MJ HYDE. “Just a decision made by a group of people designated to make decisions. Do you feel better making EVERYTHING into an issue? You are judging the people and institution as “bad” because you disagree with a decision they were authorized to make. Did they not offer her a 5 year non-tenure position??? EVERYBODY that you disagree with is entitled to only the outcomes that YOU deem fair??? Insanity.” “Liberal paper with liberal readers. no neutrality at all,” MJ Hyde added. It’s true! We’re guilty as charged.


Chapel Hill


15 MINUTES Ashley and David Donovan Couple that met on Chapel Hill Transit BY SARA PEQUEÑO

A few weeks ago, David tweeted photos of his daughter’s first trip on a Chapel Hill Transit bus—the same buses where he and Ashley met in the early 2000s. They shared their story with us.

Tell me how y’all met. Ashley: I got on the bus heading back from class one day. We went one more stop down, and David got on. I was eyeing him, because, ya know, good-looking man. The bus was pretty crowded so I was sitting down, but he had to stand. He and I started making eyes at each other, and a few more stops later he sat across from me. He kind of put his sunglasses down like he was gonna play it cool, and look at me but I wouldn’t know, but I totally knew what he was doing.


There was a seat open next to her, so I sat down, started talking. I don’t remember what my pickup line was that time, but presumably it was not as memorable. I asked her out on a date, and we went out that night; we had a great first date and the rest is history. There’s one other funny part of this: I had applied for a parking pass on campus. Didn’t get it, and so the reason why I was on the bus was because I did not get the parking pass. So, as I tell people, it’s a story of love, of romance, a story of public transit, but also a story of parking scarcity and how important that is.

How was it taking your daughter for the first time on Chapel Hill Transit? David: This was the first time on the bus, and as you can see, she loved it.

We ended up at the first stop to Chapel Ridge [Apartments]. I usually get off at the second stop, but I could tell he was about to get off. I thought to myself, ‘Maybe he’ll talk to me,’ so I got off. We walked across the street and he came up with the best pickup line ever: ‘So, you live in Chapel Ridge, too?’

Ashley: We took some engagement pictures on the buses, and we took some pictures of our pregnancy announcement in Chapel Hill, and we did some of the bus, too. It was sweet, we always got the driver’s permission—‘Hey can we stand in the doorway for just a second?’ We don’t want to make them late, but it’s neat that we’re able to do that.

David: This was 2005—January 12, 2005—and we ran to this brand-new, relatively unheard-of thing called Facebook.

David: She was excited, once we got her on the bus.

We’d gotten each other’s first names but no last names, and through a bit of Facebook and the student directory, I found her Facebook page. We both made it a point to be on the bus again the next Thursday and we were on the same route again at the same time.

Ashley: She was a little nervous before. David: She was, but then we could move around a little bit. It was a very different experience. She talked about how fast it was going. She was just looking out the window, enchanted at everything.W

May 26, 2021




Priority Tax Raleigh residents will likely pay more in property taxes this year but the money will go towards parks projects and affordable housing BY JANE PORTER



race yourself, Raleigh residents: a property tax increase is likely coming in the next fiscal year beginning July 1, but the 1.78-cent increase would pay for priorities as identified by Raleigh voters, including funding for parks and affordable housing. City Manager Marchell Adams-David last week included the planned tax increase as part of her $1.07 billion proposed city budget. The suggested tax rate represents 37.3 cents per $100 in property valuation. For a home valued at the median value in Wake County—around $255,000—that would represent about a $46 property tax increase over last year’s tax bill of $951. The city will host a public hearing on the budget at its meeting on June 1 but, at first blush, the council seemed impressed with the proposal. “The budget really captures a lot of the priorities we discussed at our [council retreat in March], addressing issues of housing affordability, homelessness, transportation, stormwater, parks, greenway safety,” said Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin. “You got it all.”


$1.07 billion budget, a $60 million, or 5.8 percent increase over last year


proposed property tax rate hike

$24.8 million from the 2020 affordable housing bond

$6.3 million

May 26, 2021

for affordable housing from the general fund

Last fall, Raleigh voters approved an $80 million affordable housing bond. A planned parks bond referendum was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in 2014, voters approved a $92 million parks bond that came with a long list of parks and greenway maintenance projects located all around the city that are still being funded. An additional one cent from the proposed property tax hike, generating a total of $7.6 million in annual funding, will go toward paying for new parks and greenway projects. The rest—a projected $24.8 million this fiscal year from the 2020 bond, plus an additional $6.3 million from the general fund—will go toward affordable housing initiatives, such as transit-oriented site acquisition; public-private partnerships; low-income housing tax credit gap financing; owner-occupied home rehabilitation; and down payment assistance. At a work session last week, Larry Jarvis, the city’s Housing and Neighborhoods director, gave the council an update on where his department is in terms of partnering with Wake County on acquiring and preserving

$7.6 million

in annual capital funding for parks and greenways, or $38 million over five years, including:

$3 million

to renovate the Laurel Hills Community Center and install new HVAC

$1 million

for improvements to the Pope House

$3.6 million

for other improvements including roof and safety repairs and facility and site improvements

property for affordable housing, on public-private partnerships, and on appointments to the affordable housing bond’s executive subcommittee—the group of stakeholders who will decide how the affordable housing bond money is apportioned. By early next year, Jarvis reported, a fund for the city’s acquiring land for affordable housing jointly with the county should be fully operational. “[Offering up city-owned lots] is something I have really been pushing for,” said council member Jonathan Melton during the work session. “The city owning dirt is not helping anyone. If we want to build a city that is walkable and dense, we need housing in more places, and we can certainly offer up the land that we own to house folks who are in need of affordable housing.” Additionally, in a partnership with the nonprofit Healing Transitions—a long-term recovery, non-medical detox, and overnight shelter—$3 million will go toward renovating and expanding the men’s shelter’s campus in a 0 percent interest, forgivable loan. Other partnerships include one with the affordable housing developer CASA on 100 new units in King’s Ridge, plus a budgeted $2 million for other small-scale projects. For those smaller scale projects, city staff proposed spending that $2 million, plus some $5 million in additional funds from the federal American Rescue Plan, on emergency shelters for families, transitional housing, and other affordable rental units with inclusion of units for very low-income households in partnership with Wake County. “I want to say yes and yes to these proposals,” Baldwin said. W


new positions added to the city government’s 4,300 member staff, including:

• Four in newly created Community Engagement and Strategy and Innovation offices • Seven in the police department for greenway safety • 12 for transportation and engineering services • Seven to expand services and programs funded by the 2014 parks and recreation bond


average increase for water and sewer rates $1/month increase for solid waste services

$10.75 million

street resurfacing, sidewalk repairs

$1 million

budgeted to RPD for greenway safety

2 to 4%

merit increases for city workers


Raleigh Wake County Courthouse PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

Race, Reopened The first hearing in a series of death penalty cases ordered reopened by a landmark state Supreme Court ruling began last week in a Wake County courtroom. The outcome may effectively end capital punishment in North Carolina. BY LEIGH TAUSS


n February 2007, Hasson Jamaal Bacote was 19 years old when he and another man broke into a home in Selma, North Carolina, in an attempted robbery. Six people were inside, including 18-year-old Anthony Surles, a senior at Smithfield- Selma High School. Surles was shot and killed. Surles’ murder wasn’t premeditated, but based on Bacote’s already lengthy teenage criminal rap sheet, Bacote was sentenced to death by lethal injection in 2009. More than a decade later, Bacote’s case is back in court, thanks to a 2020 ruling from the North Carolina Supreme Court mandating that petitions of more than 100 death row inmates be heard by the courts due to evidence of racial bias in jury selection under the state’s Racial Justice Act. Not only does Bacote’s life depend on the outcome, but so does the future of the death penalty in North Carolina. “I don’t know that there’s a weaker case for the death penalty than Mr. Bacote,” says Gretchen Engel, executive director of The Center for Death Penalty Litigation. “This case, with all of the other evidence we have, [shows] that racism permeates the death penalty in our state and nationwide.”

North Carolina has not executed anyone since 2006. In 2009, the state legislature passed the Racial Justice Act, banning the death penalty in cases where race was determined to be a factor in sentencing. The law was retroactive for the 145 inmates on death row at the time; however, it was repealed in 2013 after Republicans seized control of the legislature. A lengthy legal battle has been waged since, ending in the state Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling that all pending petitions under the act had the right to be heard for reevaluation. Statistical evidence has shown that the state systematically discriminated against Black jurors, as upheld in death row inmate Marcus Robinson’s 2012 appeal against the state, which found that Black jurors were twice as likely to be excluded from selection. Twenty percent of inmates on North Carolina’s death row had been sentenced by an allwhite jury, and about a quarter of inmates had been convicted by a jury with only a single person of color, studies also showed. In cases with White victims, the defendant was nearly three times more likely to be sentenced to death. The bias was flippant in some cases, with prosecutors shown to have written notes calling jurors “blk wino,” or

“blk, high drug.” Training sessions taught prosecutors to be more discreet in their decision-making by giving vague excuses like “body language” or “lack of eye contact” to keep Black jurors from the bench. Now, it will be the burden of the state to prove that race did not taint the jury selection in Bacote’s trial. According to Duke law professor James Coleman, the court’s decision regarding the statistical findings likely will impact the rest of the hearings. “If the court finds that evidence shows that race was a factor in Johnston County, then that decision will likely apply to other cases in Johnson County because the state will have had an opportunity to defend it in this case, and it doesn’t get a chance to challenge an issue that has already lost,” Coleman told the INDY. “So some of the evidence found in an individual case might be binding for the state in subsequent cases.” Bacote’s hearing began Friday when his legal team appeared before Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. at the Wake County Courthouse to request documents from the state, including jury selection notes and training records. Should his appeal succeed, he will be resentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Regardless of the outcome, it will likely be appealed to higher courts. The state Supreme Court currently has a liberal majority on the bench, but the case is unlikely to reach it until after the 2022 election. The hearing came, coincidentally, the same week that a North Carolina jury awarded $75 million—the largest-ever payout in a case of wrongful conviction—to former death row inmates Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who spent nearly 31 years in prison for the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl found dead in a soybean field. They were exonerated in 2014 after DNA evidence implicated Roscoe Artis, who was already serving life in prison at the time, for the murder. The petitions slated to be heard under the Racial Justice Act will also be costly to the state, especially if, after the first few cases play out, Attorney General Josh Stein decides to continue trying each case individually. “I would be interested in whether the Attorney General is considering looking at some of these early cases as test cases with the idea that after some number, when the evidence is clear, that he will stop defending these cases and go in and confess error,” Coleman says. “I don’t think he would have the courage to do that but if you were a private law firm representing a client in a series of cases like these [...] at some point, you would advise your client that it is a waste of time to continue to defend these cases based on the evidence.” A spokesperson for Stein’s office declined to comment on the specifics of the cases. “Our office will follow the law as enacted by the legislature and in accordance with applicable court rulings,” they wrote via email. W

May 26, 2021



May 26, 2021


Chatham County

Sticks and Stones Where’s the line between free speech and fighting words? Depends on who your court judge is. BY SARA PEQUEÑO


aya Little knows what clear and present danger looks like. Little, a former UNC-Chapel Hill doctoral student, started protesting Silent Sam in 2017, after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville revealed just how strong the modern white supremacist movement is. In April 2018, they gained local notoriety for painting UNC-CH’s Confederate monument with red paint and their own blood. The next years were full of clear, present danger. Their name, alongside the name of Lyndsay Ayling, a prominent anti-racist on campus, was included in racist graffiti on the Unsung Founders Memorial in 2019. They received death threats online. At one point, they say, Confederate sympathizers showed up at an apartment where Little was presumed to live, threatening to shoot. Little’s experience with threats are what made a recent appeal in Chatham County hard to swallow. Little, the defendant, was found guilty of using “fighting words” to provoke white supremacists. “They’re threatening to kill me online, and the police don’t care,” they told the INDY. “I get in trouble for saying a mean word to them.” In 2019, racists from hate groups like League of the South and Heirs to the Confederacy were showing up for weeks to rally around the Confederate monument in Pittsboro as Chatham commissioners decided its fate. On November 16, anti-racists, including Little, came to counterprotest. The old monument and courthouse are at the center of a roundabout in downtown Pittsboro. Down East Street, there’s a county government parking lot where the neo-Confederates set up shop. Across the street, there’s a small patch of grass and flowers at the Presbyterian Church called Nooe Park. That’s where the anti-racists stood.

Little recalls being called the n-word that day. They also recall right-wingers blowing train whistles to mock Ayling, whose brother was killed by a train. “These are things that, to me, are ridiculous, but I still put up with it,” Little says. “I never at any point expected those people to be arrested for that, even though it was vile and cruel.” After hours of back and forth, Little crossed the street toward Neal’s Gas and Convenience. The neo-Confederates walked up to them. Some anti-racists crossed the street to support Little. Geraldine Hall, a neo-Confederate and one of Little’s accusers, walked up to them. Little was holding a bullhorn. They yelled at Hall, and told her to go for it. “Do something, bitch!” they shouted. Allan Hall, Geraldine’s husband, also walked over to get involved. Little had words for him, too. “You only got one eye, bitch,” they yelled at Allan. Neither of the Halls reacted at first. Then, Geraldine hit a different anti-racist. People start shoving. Rusty Alphin, another local white supremacist, punched Little. Their lip split open a little later, during their arrest. They had to spit to keep the blood out of their mouth. Some of that blood got on an officer’s uniform, which led to a felony charge. Eleven people were arrested that day, including Alphin and both of the Halls. Alphin and Geraldine were charged with simple affray. Allan’s charges included inciting a riot. All three were released from jail on written promises to return for their court dates. Meanwhile, Little was held on a $10,000 bond. In the end, Little was convicted of “disorderly conduct by abusive language,” based on the words they yelled through the bullhorn. They were convicted of using “fighting


words,” a class of speech that applies only if there is a “clear and present danger” of someone’s being punched. Fighting words were established in a 1942 Supreme Court case where a Jehovah’s Witness called a New Hampshire town marshal “a God-damned racketeer” and “a damned Fascist.” The court ruled that these words were a breach of the peace. The Durham-based attorney T. Greg Doucette (an occasional INDY columnist) defended Little in the case. He says that since that case, the Supreme Court has continuously limited what “fighting words” actually are. “There are several cases that reference fighting words, and I mentioned those in my closing,” Doucette says. “None of them say what fighting words are.” The same day Little’s case was decided in Chatham, a settlement in Alamance County between the NAACP and the sheriff’s department found that swear words at protests don’t warrant arrest. Doucette mentioned this in his closing remarks, but the conviction was upheld. Little’s case was heard by Chatham County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour, the same judge who settled the now-defunct Silent Sam agreement between the Sons of Confederate Veterans and UNC-CH. In Baddour’s closing

remarks, he acknowledged that he could see why Little’s actions felt appropriate. “While I feel like it violated the law and I feel like it is deserving of a conviction and punishment, I guess it feels to me that you took actions that you felt appropriate,” Baddour said. “It also feels to me like that you understand that they risk consequences, and this is simply that.” For Little, the time, money, and trauma of court wasn’t worth an appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court. They hadn’t been arrested at protests in more than a year, and no longer lived in the state. That same day Little appeared in court, a member of League of the South was on trial for, and found guilty of, carrying a glock and multiple rounds of ammunition at the Chatham County protests. She approached Little and Ayling and Little says she started threatening the duo. “If you really want to divide the sides, you have one side that literally works on intimidation,” Little says. “Someone who brings a gun to a protest and brings four different clips with them. I don’t think that they’re there just to have a good time, I think that they’re probably there to cause some violence. This person is literally talking shit to me after their trial in the courthouse. But I’m, like, the outside agitator who’s causing all this upset. It just becomes surreal.” W

May 26, 2021




Bridging the Gap Brij, a new, local crowdfunding service, connects customers to their favorite businesses in more enduring ways BY LENA GELLER


little over a year ago, Bill Putsis was sitting at Durham’s Bar Virgile, saving a seat for a friend. When a man walked over and took the seat, Putsis politely informed him that it wasn’t available. But the man didn’t get up. “I was like, ‘Excuse me, is this the third grade?’” Putsis says. Then he took a closer look at the chair. “I’ll be damned, the seat had his name on it,” Putsis says. “He was such a loyal customer they put his name on the seat.” A few months later, as the pandemic began to wreak havoc on small businesses around the country, Putsis watched consumers turn to crowdsourcing sites as their primary way of offering support. Thinking back to his interaction at the bar, Putsis started tossing around an idea for a different way to help small businesses—something that wasn’t just one-and-done, but instead facilitated long-term relationships between businesses and their clientele, in the way that Bar Virgile had bestowed upon a faithful customer his own special seat. “What crowdfunding sources do is take a business’s most valuable asset, their customers, and then walk away,” Putsis says. “It helps in the short term, but the businesses are left hanging. I was looking to create something more enduring.” Putsis, a tenured professor at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, reached out to a handful of friends—a financial advisor, a marketing specialist, and a law school student, among others—and in March 2020, they conceptualized Brij, a start-up creating a centralized platform for small businesses to connect both with their customers and with each other. “I liken [Brij] to the anti-Groupon,” Putsis says. “Groupon was an organization that 8

May 26, 2021

attracted your least loyal customers: those that were just in for a deal, then would walk away and go to the next deal. We want to help businesses create an ongoing relationship with their most valuable customers.” To cultivate these lasting relationships, the patent-pending start-up developed a vehicle called “Brij Promotions.” It allows consumers to exchange financial contributions for a personalized deal that will keep them engaged with businesses on a regular basis. For example, Funky Bow Brewery in Lyman, Maine, rolled out a Brij Promotion where patrons can make a donation and get a beer named after them. In another promotion, Durham’s Convivio will put the names of people who help fund the expansion of their outdoor patio on a permanent plaque. Brij is currently most active in Durham and Boston, though the start-up has teamed up with a few businesses in other locations, such as the Maine brewery and a bakery in Chicago. As part of its Durham launch, Brij hosted a Main Street Crawl this month, a ticketed event that invited Durhamites to show their love for local bars, restaurants, and art galleries by shopping and enjoying complimentary samples along a map of more than a dozen featured sites. “The goal [of the Crawl] is partially to raise money from ticket sales, but beyond that, it’s to regenerate awareness of the dynamic, vibrant nature of downtown Durham,” Putsis says. “We want to have foot traffic so businesses can show off what great things they do.” After checking in with the Brij team, the Crawl’s 100-plus ticket holders received a wristband and a tote bag and set off on their journey around downtown. Crawlers moseyed from business to business, soaking in the sun and cramming their totes

Outside Cecy’s Gallery & Studios PHOTO BY LENA GELLER

with goodies: a box of pastries from Loaf, a bag of chili and lime chicharrones from Dos Perros, and a sack of house-made Chex mix from Fullsteam, to name a few. Jason Youngbar, a Crawler who moved to Durham in April, says his favorite stop was Littler, where he tried a refreshing cucumber tonic and a flavor-packed spoonful of marinated octopus salad. Youngbar discovered the Crawl on Facebook while looking for a fun way to spend his birthday. “It supports the local economy downtown, and it gives us a chance to connect with our new community, so we figured it would be a beautiful day for it,” Youngbar says. Beyond introducing recent transplants to the local scene, the Crawl afforded veteran Durhamites the opportunity to check out spots that opened their doors during the pandemic, like pastry shop Sweets by Shayda and restaurant Indian Monsoon. Once they’d filled up on snacks, ticket holders admired work from area artists at PS118 and stopped by Cecy’s Gallery & Studios to contribute to artist Sarah Glickman’s Durham Community Art Piece. Prompted with the question, “What does Durham mean to you?”, Crawlers used red, yellow, and blue markers to fill in the empty space around Glickman’s drawings of wellknown bulls from around the city. Many people drew their homes; others sketched pints of beer and cups of coffee; one simply wrote, “A place to be yourself.”

“Community and collaboration is massively important for me and my work,” Glickman says. “COVID definitely set me back because it isolated me from that, so I’m really excited that [the Crawl] gives me the opportunity to meet more people and more fellow artists.” One hundred percent of the proceeds from the Crawl’s ticket sales were distributed to featured businesses, and there was no cost for businesses to participate. This business model exemplifies the way Brij plans to function on a broader scale: all revenue earned from Brij Promotions will go straight into the pockets of small business owners. For at least the next six months, Brij will not make any money, but once the start-up can accumulate data on which of its promotions are most successful, it will profit by selling analytics to businesses. “The goal of this would be to help businesses find revenue opportunities that they hadn’t thought of,” Putsis says. In the short term, Brij is working to help small businesses “bridge” the gap to post-pandemic life, stimulating traffic through events like the Main Street Crawl and strengthening relationships with customers via Brij Promotions. But the start-up intends to be more than just a temporary service. “A longer-run vision is to be a platform for businesses to connect to each other,” Putsis says. “The ability for businesses to connect on a platform so they can learn from each other and communicate—that isn’t out there now.” W

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The Parlour

A couple poses outside The Parlour in Chapel Hill

175 Poythress Rd, Chapel Hill |




THE BIG ART OF SMALL GATHERINGS A small chapel in Chatham County provides an intimate space to say "I Do" BY LENA GELLER

ith their mission to “Love Big, Celebrate Small,” the two women behind the venue The Parlour at Manns Chapel were advocating for intimate gatherings long before they became a government mandate. Aimee Flynn and Yvette Navarro met 10 years ago while working as design educators at the Art Institute of Durham. After organizing a handful of functions for the college, the pair realized their passion and prowess for events and decided they wanted to open their own venue. In 2013, they bought a small, abandoned Methodist church in Chatham County and spent the next two years restoring it. “The community really loves the building, so we wanted to save as much as we could through thoughtful reuse,” Flynn says. “We kept the original stained glass windows, the original pine floors, the original signs.” As a nod to local history, Flynn and Navarro made their venue’s mascot the Chatham rabbit. “In the 1800s, everybody was hunting Chatham rabbits, because they were meatier and really prosperous,” Flynn says. “When we arrived and the building was in such sad condition, we wanted to bring back prosperity to the corner that it sits on.” Their commitment to incorporating historical touches and repurposing the chapel’s fixtures speaks to the way they let the building define their brand. “We’re very focused on reuse and rethinking how we do things,” Flynn says. “Because The Parlour is such an intimate venue—our capacity is 100 people or less—we made our motto ‘’Refashioning the Art of Gathering.’” Although Flynn and Navarro had initially envisioned The Parlour as a space for chef dinners and creative workshops, they quickly found a fondness for weddings, after putting on a few ceremonies for friends. They transformed the chapel’s pastor offices into a bridal suite and groom’s room, and repurposed the outdoor space to be a cocktail patio and garden courtyard for receptions. To cement their status as a wedding venue, Flynn and Navarro created a second, more specific mantra for The Parlour: ‘Love Big, Celebrate Small.’ The impulse to make one’s wedding an extravagant production is understandable. Big weddings have been the norm for well over a century: after they emerged in the 1800s as a status symbol, businesses pushed the ideal to the broader American public through commercial marketing. In hammering the rhetoric that weddings necessitate a photographer, a caterer, a DJ, and numerous bit players, the industry has formed a subtext: if you’re going to tie the knot, you need to do it in front of a big audience. These days, the average U.S. wedding has 131 guests and costs upwards of $30,000, according to The Knot’s 2019 Real Weddings Study. Weddings at The Parlour average around 60 guests, though the venue also hosts plenty of ceremonies with fewer than 20 people. “Weddings don’t have to be a big show,” Flynn says. “All you need is a small group of people you’re close to. You can hug everybody, you can share a conversation across the table, you can be in on every joke.” Cutting down a guest list eliminates the urge to splurge on theatrics, Flynn says, allowing couples to invest more of their budget into services that will make for a meaningful experience. Couples who rent out The Parlour receive access to a “handpicked experts list,” a catalog of Triangle vendors who Flynn and Navarro collaborate with on a regular basis. The list includes local florists, photographers, caterers, and other vendors. Jacob Boehm, executive chef and owner of Durham’s Snap Pea Catering, is one of them. When Boehm caters weddings at The

May 26, 2021


Parlour, he often creates concept meals inspired by a couple’s love story. “I solicit stories from their friends and family,” Boehm says. “Then, during the meal, I have those people give a toast and we bring out a course that’s based on that.” An example: At one wedding in February 2020, after a couple’s friend mentioned the bride having a “heart of gold,” Boehm created a course featuring charcoal grilled lamb heart and leaf lettuce wraps stuffed with crispy Carolina gold rice. “[Small weddings] allow for a greater sense of intentionality,” Boehm says. “These kinds of concept meals that we do don’t work that well with a bunch of people.” After spending five years carrying the torch for small gatherings, Flynn says it almost felt “comic” when the pandemic hit. “All these other venues were trying to say they could do micro weddings,” Flynn says, “We were like, ‘We’ve been doing this the whole time!’” For the first few months of the pandemic, as with most businesses, The Parlour closed its doors. But Flynn and Navarro were determined to uphold their pledge to foster prosperity in their corner of the community, even when the building was void of activity. So in May 2020, they launched a “Lights On” campaign, decking the chapel with thousands of lights and inviting locals to snap pictures and honk hello as they drove by. “We wanted to be a beacon of hope,” Flynn says. “We wanted people to see the lights and be like, ‘It’s gonna be OK.’” The Parlour reopened for micro weddings and elopements in June 2020, postponing ceremonies with more than 50 guests to 2021. Between August and March, Flynn kept the space alive and thrumming by using it as a small classroom for her daughter and several other first-graders in their “pod.” Before the pandemic, Flynn and Navarro spent a lot of time coaching couples on how to pare down their guest lists, offering strategies for telling coworkers and college acquaintances that they didn’t make the cut. “I don’t think we have to teach them anymore,” Flynn says. “This pandemic was a wake-up call that showed us the people who actually mean something to us, the people who we talk to on a daily basis.” Of course, some couples will still want the big country club, the buffet, and the colossal guest list, she adds. But as we emerge from a year spent in isolation, Navarro says people have a new understanding of what makes a gathering meaningful. “It’s not about putting on a grand performance,” she says. “It’s about being together with the people you love.” W 10

May 26, 2021

Gowns at Gavin Christianson Bridal

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A PERFECT FIT At a downtown Durham bridal shop, a size-inclusive experience puts brides first BY LENA GELLER


en years ago, a carefree bride-tobe named Gineen Cargo set out on a quest to find the perfect wedding dress. Within seconds of stepping into a local boutique, she was turned away. “There was no warm welcome, no pouring of the champagne that they advertised, no questions about my wedding date or my venue,” Cargo says. “As soon as I walked through the door, the lady looked me up and down and said, ‘I don’t have anything that can fit you.’” Though Cargo was ultimately able to secure a dress at a more accommodating shop, the size-exclusive experience left a bad taste in her mouth for years to come. Shortly after getting married, Cargo left her PR job

to pursue a career in event management, launching a North Carolina-based wedding planning company called Cargo & Co. She quickly realized that her own experience with dress shopping—an undertaking that had made her stressed and self-conscious, instead of increasing her excitement for the big day—was shared by many of her clients. “If you know anything about the bridal industry, and the fashion industry in general, once you get into double-digit sizes, your options become much more limited,” Cargo says. “When you’re trying to celebrate the happiest time in your life, why should it be prohibitive from a fashion standpoint?” Cargo decided to tackle the issue by embarking on another visionary venture. In

2018, she opened Gavin Christianson Bridal, a boutique in downtown Durham dedicated to serving brides of all body types. “We’re size-inclusive,” Cargo says. “That means we’re not necessarily alienating someone who doesn’t identify as being curvy or plus-size, but we [make] sure that brides across the board have access to viable options.” U.S. retailers generally use the term “plussize” to classify clothing sizes 14 and up. Though “plus-size” connotes a size that’s larger than the norm, the average American woman actually wears a size between 16 and 18, and more than 67 percent of the population falls into the plus-size category, according to a study by the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education. Given the prevalence of plus-size customers, it seems mystifying that bridal shops would stock such a limited selection of dresses. While the industry has, over the past decade, seen advancements in size inclusivity—most stores now carry gowns in sizes 2 through 32, the same range as Gavin Christianson's—many shops continue to fall short in offering more than two or three styles for plus-size brides. Size constraints from luxury designers are partially to blame, but Cargo says there are plenty of options available, if store owners are willing to look. “There’s this false assumption that plussize brides want to conceal their bodies, so some places will only carry conservative or traditional styles in larger sizes,” Cargo says. And even if a shop technically carries sizes up to 32, its inventory of sample dresses to try on in-store might go up to only a size 10 or 12, forcing plus-size customers to go through the extra hassle of ordering samples ahead of time. When prospective brides walk into Gavin Christianson Bridal, Cargo works to allay any trepidations they have about fitting into a dress, assuring them that her shop provides a wide array of sample sizes and curates a collection of dresses that are showstopping across the board. Once customers decide on a gown, Cargo offers to add customizations to ensure that they’ll walk down the aisle in a one-of-a-kind dress that maximizes their confidence. “We have a lot of fun with adding sleeves, adding more bling, changing up the neckline,” Cargo says. “We want to put the focus on accentuating what you love instead of hiding what you don’t.” W

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The writer and her fiancé PHOTO BY RICHARD BARLOW


WAITING TO WED When divisions over masks and vaccines shake up your guest list BY VICTORIA DOMINGUEZ


hen my then-boyfriend, now-fiancé, Jesse, got down on one knee to propose to me on Christmas morning, I knew our engagement wouldn’t be exactly how I had imagined—it would involve planning and shopping for a wedding in a global pandemic. What I didn’t foresee was the amount of time I would spend mulling over my guest list and keeping a keen eye on my guests’ attitudes about preventing the spread of COVID. It started when I talked about the pandemic with a relative who is an essential worker. My fiancé, always the optimist, said something like, “I’m really glad to see the vaccine rolling out. I’m getting it as soon as it’s available to younger people!” “Yeah, I’m not so sure about it. I don’t know if I’m gonna get it,” the relative said. “At the very least, I’ll probably wait a long while.” What we later found out is that this person, a responsible and loving parent who is a fan of all things organic, 12

May 26, 2021

was starting to fall into some anti-vax (or at least vaccine-suspicious) sentiment because of things they had read on Facebook parenting groups or heard from friends. Here we go. This was the first in the series of people on my prospective guestlist who showed hesitancy towards vaccines or preventative measures, and it got worse. One person told us they had, in the last 10 months, taken three cross-country trips involving flights and spending time in tourist destinations. Another angrily declared that, according to a right-wing YouTuber they watch who claims to be a doctor, masks don’t work because “the COVID air particles are too small and slip right through the mask.” That's despite our knowing that the virus spreads through aerosols and multiple studies show that masks, while not perfect, help slow transmission. A friend of mine said, “There’s no way I’m getting the vaccine” before following up with, “What? It’s not like I’m an anti-vaxxer or anything.”

Naturally, I panicked. I went back and forth between rearranging our guest seating chart so that hesitant folks would sit around those who were okay with wearing a mask or planned on getting vaccinated, like a bad science project on herd immunity. My fiancé cut through the frustration with a simple idea—opt for a longer engagement and have the wedding in October of 2022. Some asked us what the reasoning behind the nearly two-yearlong engagement was. Ironically, many of those people are the same ones mentioned above. Turns out, the political climate around the pandemic (as well as other issues) is something on a lot of engaged couples’ minds. According to a 2020 survey from Zola, an e-commerce and wedding planning platform, one of the highest stressors to couples was political tension, second only to their wedding budget. Eighty-eight percent of engaged couples reported having more political discussions at home. I figured that by pushing back my wedding, I could save some people from themselves. Looking for solidarity, I took to bride-to-be Facebook groups and the subreddit r/wedding. Some brides were tired of changing the date of their big day and chose to elope instead. Others tried going for hard-and-fast rules. “The policy is, ‘no vaccine, no invite,’” said one bride who preferred to remain anonymous. However, she’s pushing back her wedding for one person who’s the exception: her father, who is supposed to walk her down the aisle. “He has begun to believe that there’s something fishy about mass vaccination and has decided that he won’t be getting it,” she explained. “He’s a medic, so I was shocked when he said he wasn’t getting the vaccine.” These situations affect wedding vendors as well. Wedding parties with varied mask use or unenforced social distancing are leaving those in the wedding industry feeling less safe at work than usual. Ali Robbins, a wedding photographer who runs her own business in Matthews, North Carolina, said mask-less ceremonies left her feeling uncomfortable. “This left me feeling awkward to wear mine, so most of the time I didn’t because I didn’t want to stand out,” she told me on social media. Although I wasn’t happy about delaying my wedding at first, my future husband had the right idea, as much as I hate admitting it. I felt so much more confident in our decision when I was touring a potential venue recently. The woman showing us around pointed to some décor that the last couple who got married there used for inspiration. “They got these cute little signs at Etsy for their seating arrangement, since there’s a pandemic and everything,” she said cheerfully. There stood two signs painted with flowers and in the most Pinterest-worthy calligraphy font imaginable, one read “Masks” and the other “No Masks.” My engagement may be long, but something tells me I’m going to dodge a bullet. W

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Cate Doty: Mergers and Acquisitions: Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned on the Wedding Pages [G.P. Putnam's Sons; May 4]


ments. It helped me understand what I felt about commitment and to come to the conclusion that ultimately I did want to get married—and to marry this person. Covering weddings for so long, would you say you are an expert on love? Oh god, no. What gives you a perspective on love is time and experiencing love in all the forms that it takes. Hopefully, many of us are lucky enough to experience all the different kinds. Marital love and romantic love are sometimes not the same thing, funnily enough. It’s not like the romantic phase. Marriage is its own mythical beast. I would not consider myself an expert about love, I would consider myself a critic. I’m not critical of love—I just take a more educated perspective on it now than I did 15 or 20 years ago.


THE LOVE CRITIC Former New York Times wedding announcement writer Cate Doty talks about writing (and experiencing) true love BY LEIGH TAUSS


s the former wedding announcements writer for The New York Times, Cate Doty—now living in Raleigh and working as an adjunct professor at UNC-Chapel Hill— was privy to many machinations between members of high-profile partnerships. In her new memoir, Mergers and Acquisitions, Doty spills the tea on what it was like behind the scenes while working at the Times and reflects on what she learned from the couples she profiled. She also explores her own journey that led her down the path to saying “I do.” 14

May 26, 2021

INDY: Your book is half memoir, half tell-all about your work at the Times. Why did you choose to present the stories together? CATE DOTY: When I was going through this idea with my book agent, we agreed that this shouldn’t be a sociologist text. I’m not a sociologist and it’s not anthropological. During the time I was writing the wedding announcements, I was ending one post-college relationship and falling in love with the man who would become my husband. That particular part of my life was inextricably intertwined with writing wedding announce-

If you didn’t learn to be a love expert, what did you learn? One of the questions I would routinely ask each person was: tell me about your fiancé, tell me about this person you're going to marry. Often I'd be writing about fantastically rich people who had their own private jets or didn't have to lift a finger to do anything. Or, I was writing about people who had incredibly interesting careers. The way they would talk about their fiancées was always quite revealing. I wrote the wedding announcement for Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, who, as most people know, lost her husband in a horrible accident several years ago. When she was the vice president of Google, I remember talking to her a couple weeks before her wedding. She was so clear-eyed about their ambitions together and the things that they needed from each other—how they truly wanted to be each others’ helpmates. I talked to her now-late husband and he said the same thing. I felt that that was incredibly revealing and instructive. That leads into your title. Is marriage sometimes a business? (Laughs) Oh god, yes. As someone says in Little Women, marriage is an economic proposition. Marriage has been used to join family bank accounts and join up centuries of societal and economic power. When heterosexual couples get divorced in this country, it’s usually the woman who lowers her standards of living. But mergers aren’t just for rich people. We have emotional mergers as well.

At the Times, how do you pick which announcements to include? You have to have the mindset of someone who thinks, “Yes, I want my wedding announcement in The New York Times.” Second, you have to follow the instructions and submit all the info they request and be on time and, the most important thing, is not to lie. Because if you lie, your wedding announcement will not get printed. People do that. They adjust their titles up a notch, say they graduated from some place they didn’t. The applicant pool is [also] much smaller than people think. Now, in the summer months, you could get hundreds of people applying and it comes down to the basic requirements. And then it is this complicated formula of, are you from New York, where did you go to school, what did you do? They really love public service, which is funny because you're not going to see many firefighters in there. But I guarantee you, if more firefighters or teachers [submitted], they would make it in. The pages have gotten more diverse. They’re starting more to reflect America as a whole instead of just rich, white, upper middle class/upper class society that tends to be drawn to the wedding announcement. What have you learned from your relationship with your husband? Probably the main thing I’ve learned from being married, or being with my husband for 17 years—even through the pandemic, even through some of the darkest days—is, it’s pretty great to have someone to wake up to, and say yes to, even when all you want to do is run for the hills. You never know what kind of great stuff is around the corner and that’s why we commit to anything—nothing is sure. As humans we like to place bets. What I learned from writing the announcements is that sometimes bets pay off in a pretty magical way. For a skeptic, you sound optimistic about the prospect of marriage and love. I happen to have fallen into a pretty good one. My parents are getting divorced, surprise—after 44 years of marriage, they are calling it. Sometimes it’s hard to remain optimistic or even romantic in the face of what life can throw at you. But I am lucky enough to be with someone who helps reinforce that. W

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SUITE DESIGN The Honeymoon Suite in Raleigh’s Heights House Hotel is designed with versatility, comfort, and luxury in mind BY JANE PORTER


here are many grand guest rooms in Raleigh’s Heights House Hotel—nine to be exact. But, of all of them, Historic Suite No. 3, also known as the Honeymoon Suite, is the grandest. It was designed to be that way. The 10,000-square-foot boutique hotel, formerly known as the historic Montfort Hall mansion, opened this spring following a renovation by wife and husband pair Sarah and Jeff Shepherd. Restoring the historic Boylan Heights property—an Italianate mansion built in 1858—was a labor of love. Now, the mansion, a National Historic Landmark, has taken on a bustling next life as a hotel. For couples looking to make a weekend out of their wedding, it also serves as an unforgettable getaway experience. Heights House Hotel sleeps up to 20 people, in addition to offering venue space for a rehearsal dinner, bridal luncheon, ceremony, after-party, and other nuptial events. Couples can book the hotel for the entire weekend, a setup that allows them time to indulge in the luxuries the spa-like Honeymoon Suite has to offer. The room, a vision realized by the local designer Bryan Costello, is split into con-


nected spaces divided by a pocket door. One room is the sleeping quarters, with a king-sized bed, small bathroom, and TV. The other offers the kind of pre-wedding space that brides dream of. A clawfoot tub and shower are exposed to the entire room. Sofas and soft chairs offer opportunities for lounging and leisurely pre-wedding primping with stylists, family, and friends. In the only cool-toned room in the house, soft greens, grays, and blues against a warm wood floor make the space feel particularly calming and peaceful, a comforting quality for any jittery brides. Natural light floods the space through two arched windows that look out onto the property’s meticulously manicured grounds. “One of the features I love most about the room is the vintage, early-1900s French mirror that is close to nine feet tall. [It’s] beautiful for photos,” Costello explains. “On the spa side, the windows are fogged on the lower portions for privacy but you have natural light coming into the space all day long.” Then, once the party is over, it’s like flipping a switch for couples to share their first wedded night together, Costello says. “It is just for those beautiful, private moments,” he says. “An actual honeymoon suite for the couple, with that clawfoot tub and some really luxe finishes, including Moroccan tile and some vintage pieces.” Heights House accommodates one wedding per weekend, according to its website, with a guest capacity of 149; all nine guest rooms must be booked for two nights. There’s around 1,500 square feet of common area space and all but one of the historic suites have original fireplaces. “It is your house for the weekend and that's what sets it apart,” Costello says. “Move in for a couple days, nest for a while, and enjoy the full experience.” W

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The Lost Colony Tries to Find Itself Chapel Hill playwright Paul Green’s drama has a long, complicated history. Now it’s time for a new act. BY FRED WASSER


f you know the name of the playwright Paul Green, 40 years after his death, it could be because you know The Lost Colony. The legendary play has had a remarkable run. Since 1937, it has been staged every summer on Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina, with only two interruptions—three years during World War II, and once again in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown. On May 28, performances of The Lost Colony resume at the outdoor Waterside Theatre in Manteo, North Carolina, with limited audience seating and a scaled-down cast—about 55 roles, down from around 100. This season, the play is at a turning point. Ticket sales have been on the decline since the 90s, and before the 16

May 26, 2021

pandemic, total sales averaged between 32,000-35,000 tickets a year. To remain viable, the production needs to sell about 60,000 tickets a season, according to the Roanoke Island Historical Association, the production arm of the play. That’s one of the reasons changes are on the horizon. A new artistic director, and a team of Native American theater professionals and community advisors, have been tasked with jettisoning the show’s cultural insensitivities and remaking the show for modern audiences. “We want to be respectful of all the cultures involved,” Jeff Whiting, a New York-based director and choreographer brought on as artistic director, told the INDY. This season, he says, there will be expanded use of

the Algonquian language spoken by the Native people of Roanoke Island, and the costumes and ritual dances have been redesigned with authenticity in mind. And then there’s the most important change: for the first time, all of the Indigenous roles—about 15—will be performed by people of Native American heritage. Most of those cast are Lumbee Indians from the Pembroke area, which is the center of the tribe; in addition, Lumbee Tribe cultural enrichment coordinator Kaya Littleturtle and Lumbee Tribal chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. were both brought on as artistic advisors to the production. According to historian Malinda Maynor Lowery, author of 2018’s The Lumbee Indians: An American Struggle, the Native people of Roanoke Island “are probably among the ancestors” of the Lumbee. Kayla Oxendine, 30, is one of the new generation of Lost Colony performers. Oxendine, who is Lumbee and from Pembroke, plays a crucial role in the new Lost Colony—that of the Historian or Storyteller, a recurring presence in the play and provider of historical context. She envisions the role as an “an elderly Indigenous woman combined with a Native American spirit guide” and her costume will be traditional with a pinecone patchwork. “That’s something very specific and held very near and dear to my tribe,” Oxendine says. “If you take the bottom of a pinecone and you see that pattern, that is what you actually see in the patchwork. It’s usually right around the heart-center.” Malinda Maynor Lowery remembers taking her then11-year-old daughter to see a 2018 performance of The Lost Colony. “My daughter is Lumbee like I am,” Lowery says, “and she grew up in a nest of Lumbee culture. She’s very accustomed to being around a lot of non-Indians. She’s adapted to a lot of different communities. I was trying to see it through her eyes. There was one scene—the first scene where Manteo appears on stage. She whispered to me: ‘Are those our ancestors?’” “I saw how fascinated she was by the play’s ability to take us back in time,” Lowery continues, “The transporting power of theater is my biggest takeaway, the magical power of history.” The Lost Colony, a cornerstone of Outer Banks tourism, has long been a cultural lightning rod. Scholar Jedediah Purdy argues that the colonists have been romanticized, including in their depiction in the play. Tens of thousands of tourists, he wrote in a 2015 New Yorker magazine piece, “have watched this rendition of the lost colony’s failure as the first step in building an

“Everybody must do better when they know better. Should Paul Green have known better? Probably he did know better. He didn’t do better.” American empire of liberty and opportunity.” The play, as Purdy characterizes it, is a “progressive-nationalist musical drama.” “However the colonists envisioned themselves,” Purdy wrote, “they were pawns in an Atlantic-wide contest for bullion and shipping lanes.” Laurence Avery, editor of A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916–1981, says that Green—despite his largely progressive legacy—had some blind spots in his depictions of Indigenous people, especially the way they spoke. “At the time he wrote the play, that’s what the audiences would have expected them to sound like—like Indians in the movies,” says Avery, who also knew Green personally. “He wasn’t conscious that he was thinking in terms of cliches when he wrote The Lost Colony.” Green may have not gotten it right in The Lost Colony, but he is recognized as being ahead of his time in other ways. His New York Times obituary on May 6, 1981, declared him “one of the first American white playwrights to write works for black actors and to tackle such modern themes as lynching and prejudice.” His play In Abraham’s Bosom, about a Black man’s attempt to establish a school for Black children, earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1927, and Laurence Avery says Green was “one of the leaders in the fight to integrate schools” in North Carolina. According to Avery, in the decades after the play’s premiere, Green became increasingly concerned about justice and representation for Native people. By that time though, Avery says, Green didn’t have much to do with the play. Green first came up with the idea for a play about the lost colony in 1921, while a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. In a fit of artistic enthusiasm, he took a trip down to the coast to see the site of the settlement. As he wrote in an essay, years later, he entered the “little grove of pines and

live oaks on the edge of Croatan Sound and stood beside the small squat stone erected in 1896 to Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the new world.” Back in Chapel Hill, Green drafted a one-act play focused on Virginia Dare, but was dissatisfied, writing that “my inspiration had petered out.” Years passed, Green returned to the idea. The finished work, a Depression-era joint effort of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Theatre Project and the Roanoke Island Historical Association, commemorated the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the colonists in the New World. The original performance was an assemblage of locals and professional actors and singers coming together in what Paul Green called a symphonic drama. That summer of 1937, more than 50,000 people, including President Franklin Roosevelt, attended the performances. Three million people have filled audience seats since.


his summer, Jeff Whiting—who comes from the world of Broadway musicals—says that although The Lost Colony has singing and dancing, it’s not exactly a musical and is “really intended to be a play and to follow the history of these people.” Still, a certain amount of razzle-dazzle is essential. “Thanks to Netflix and HBO our attention span has shortened,” says Whiting. “My mission as I’ve been devising this production is to provide visual spectacle that you might expect at a venue as huge as this one.” Even so, all eyes will be focused, this season, on the portrayal of Indigenous people. Board chair Kevin Bradley of the Roanoke Island Historical Association has led the cultural changes to the new production. The association, he says, has been considering changes to the play for years,

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but the COVID lockdown spurred the board to put those changes into action. So did a petition titled “Stop Performing Racist, Redface Performances of ‘The Lost Colony’ in Manteo, NC” which began circulating via last summer. The petition called for the play to “halt production permanently” because of its use of non-Native people to play Native roles. The petition’s creator, Adam Griffin, a Los Angeles-based casting producer and graduate of Eastern Carolina University, estimates that about 100 of the 679 signees are former Lost Colony cast members. The petition is no longer active, he says, as the play’s producers have “fulfilled what we asked of them.” Whether or not the petition was the impetus for the changes, it did seem to accelerate them. “My perspective was: ‘Hey, I want to talk to this guy,’” Kevin Bradley says. “Much of what he said was true. And we needed to own that.” Though Griffin still wishes that the play would fold permanently, he says that he hopes that “the Native American people they’ve hired will be listened to.” In reflecting on The Lost Colony, the historian Malinda Maynor Lowery acknowledges Paul Green’s contributions to the fight for social justice but laments his inconsistencies and the “static” Native characters that he wrote. “Native people in the play don’t really have personalities,” she says. “Paul Green may have played a large role in advancing a system of equality,” she says. “But his efforts were not equally distributed. As a historian, I try to avoid judging individuals in the past. Everybody must do better when they know better. Should Paul Green have known better? Probably he did know better. He didn’t do better.” The story of the lost colony itself has been an alluring subject in part because of its mystery. What happened to the colonists? Maybe they were killed. Maybe they died of starvation or diseases. Maybe they dispersed. Maybe they were assimilated and welcomed into the Indigenous communities. Maybe we’ll never know. Historians are still researching and debating, as they have for centuries, and archeologists are still digging. Meanwhile, The Lost Colony goes on. Kayla Oxendine, the actress playing the role of the Historian, is excited for performances to begin. “We’re making history right now—it’s a progression in history,” Oxendine says. “I feel honored to be part of it.”W



[AdHouse Books; June 2021] Raleigh's Community Bookstore

Max Huffman with a copy of (Cover not Final) PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

Inside the Lines Carrboro cartoonist Max Huffman’s offbeat new book of “crime funnies” is drawn from locations around the Triangle BY ZACK SMITH


he comic book artist Max Huffman’s work deals with dark, surreal exaggerations of everyday life—and some of his strangest stories come from the Triangle itself. The Carrboro cartoonist, whose collection (Cover Not Final)—yes, that’s the title; no, it’s not a typo—comes out from award-winning small-press publisher AdHouse Books next week, crafted many of the unnerving-but-whimsical tales he calls “crime funnies’’ while quarantining during COVID-19. The recipient of a BFA in cartooning from New York’s School of Visual Arts, Huffman has produced a number of minicomics and short stories for anthologies over the last several years, though (Cover Not Final) is the first widely published collection of his work. For what he calls his “first book with a barcode,” Huffman combined new material with reworked and redrawn minicomics and short stories he’s created over the years, in a small, 64-page book that he says was deliberately designed to evoke old Archie digests. Produced in a variety of styles—some are in bright colors (“I wanted something garish,” he says, “that would assault the senses.”), others are sepia-toned or black-and-

white—Huffman’s tales employ the recurring setting of a nameless city with a burntout “Business Park’’ that local readers will find familiar, along with a recurring character, the mysterious “Career Criminal” who frequently provides a disruptive presence in the other characters’ lives. Huffman drew from his lifelong fascination with what he calls the “completely artificial non-city corporate city” of the Research Triangle. “My dad worked for GlaxoSmithKline, and they had what I think was the coolest building in the RTP—the Burroughs Wellcome Building, which was designed by an architect named Paul Rudolph,” Huffman says, “It’s this wild, hexagonal, space-age-like monstrosity. They’d have ‘Bring Your Kid to Work’ days, and I’d have days where I was exploring this incomprehensibly large complex. It really activated all the shape-obsessed and architectural parts of my young brain.” That “shape-obsessed” part of Huffman’s psyche is on full display in his comics, where characters often resemble the flounder-faced abstracts found in Pablo Picasso paintings. Plot is less important than atmosphere in these stories, and the eerie emptiness of “Business Park” provides an unsettling backdrop.

“My idea was that this world is like a reverse gentrification of corporate spaces where you’re turning these industrial buildings back into a city,” he says. The first story in the collection, “Tennell Leffitt: Man Detective,” pays homage to artist David Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster’s existential detective novel City of Glass. In it, the titular gumshoe tracks down goons from “Contamino” who left a “Corporate Art Installation” on his doorstep, which takes him to the emptied offices of the former headquarters of an international oil conglomerate known as “Crude” that he compares to “a ghost town.” “It was once the hottest spot in town, even after they got the A/C working,” Leffitt muses in his narration. Huffman, who also serves as the print graphic designer for Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, calls the “juxtaposition between nature and kind of lifeless liminal spaces” in the Triangle “a potent soup.” He’s also helping promote other comic creators who are part of that soup in his role as small press director at Carrboro’s new Peel Gallery, where he regularly acquires new small-press comics and artwork to be sold through the gallery and retail space. “I want to see more physical spaces for print media and comic books,” he says. “When I was growing up in Chapel Hill, there were four or five bookstores on Franklin Street.” Many of those stores, including The Bookshop, Nice Price Books, and Chapel Hill Comics, have all closed down in recent years, which bothers Huffman: “It’s sad to see things going this way when there’s still the same, if not even greater, number of people making this material.” As such, he enthusiastically promotes the work of other local comic creators, including Andrew Neal, Keith Knight, Julia Gootzeit, Ellen O’Grady, Ria Garcia, and many more. Perhaps in the “potent soup” that inspired his comics, Huffman has also found a recipe to help make the area a known hub for cartoonists—while still honoring its offbeat, surreal touches, in the meantime. “It’s a very solitary pursuit, cartooning,” Huffman says, “With Peel, I want to try to bring some of the people making comics here together in one space. There’s so much great work being done here, and I want to spotlight that as much as possible.” W

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Life Stories In Right Here, Right Now, dozens of men across the country give powerful accounts BY THOMASI MCDONALD


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May 26, 2021

few observations came to mind while reading Right Here, Right Now: Life Stories from America’s Death Row, published in April by Duke University Press. I first recalled the words of the artist and playwright, Keith Antar Mason, who, in the late 1990s, predicted that the next generation of literary voices would emerge from the American gulag, owing to federal legislation that led to the mass incarceration of Black and brown people. At 272 pages, Right Here, Right Now contains moving, first-person, anonymous accounts of men living on death row. Most stories and poems in the volume are pagelong vignettes. The eight chapters are divided chronologically, starting with the themes of early childhood with the first chapter, which delineates a pathway where prison was all but inevitable, and concluding with the final chapter, “Every Day’s Worth Celebrating,” in which condemned men cope with nearing executions. “Here’s the first game I remember playing,” writes the author of chapter one’s “Playing Solitary.” The writer describes eating cereal and watching TV as a child with his baby brother in their tiny closet, an activity they called “solitary.” In the final chapter, another writer recalls tears streaming down the face of his friend and fellow prisoner, who left with his head held high when taken from his cell, two days before his execution. Right Here, Right Now is part of a growing body of new literature about death row in

America, most notably, 2014’s best-selling Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by the attorney Bryan Stevenson. Here in the Triangle, Tessie Castillo’s powerful Crimson Letters: Voices from Death Row, published last year, chronicled the voices of the men on North Carolina’s death row, and what life is like while waiting to die. Like Castillo’s book, Right Here, Right Now is a Triangle-based project edited by writer and advocate Lynden Harris. Right Here, Right Now also prompted remembrance of a pointed observation by John Schwade, a now-retired prison psychologist at Raleigh’s Central Prison who told this writer in the early 2000s that young Black men behind bars struggled with mental illness when they fully understood the prospect of serving long prison sentences. Imagine the most wretched antithesis of flourishing into adulthood in a stainless steel cage while waiting to die. The 100-plus stories featured in Right Here, Right Now are from the voices of our fellow humans condemned to die while sitting in death row cells across the country. With the common refrain of death row being reserved for the worst of America’s criminals, Right Here, Right Now provokes uncomfortable questions about a judicial system that disproportionately incarcerates those who are “descendants of enslaved peoples and other people of color, the vast majority poor, and too many mentally ill,” as articulated by acclaimed death row attorney Henderson Hill in the book’s foreword. W


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May 26, 2021




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May 26, 2021


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