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January 2013

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This month’s editor’s note was not written by Steve Fennessy.

“How Southern are we?” was the question posed on the cover of our November 2012 special issue on Atlanta’s Southern culture and identity. Now there’s an answer: “Southern-ish.”

At least according to the 5,000-plus people who took the online version of our “How Southern Are You?” quiz between November 1 and December 1. Collectively they scored an average 35.79 out of a possible 159, putting them in a bracket clarified thusly: “Southern-ish. We suspect you were born to Yankee parents who moved South. You have absorbed some culture through assimilation. We are proud. But as the saying goes: Just because a cat has kittens in the oven, it don’t make them biscuits.”  

Granted, the quiz—which tabulated pork and collard consumption, familiarity with minor characters in Gone with the Wind, knowledge of gospel hymns and country ballads, predilection toward seersucker, SEC fanaticism, and other markers of Southern heritage—is scientific-ish at best. But still.

While just 1 percent of the respondents snagged the top ranking of “Southern Born and Bred,” we did get an answer to the second question on our cover: “Should we even care?” That would be a resounding “Yes!” Quiz takers took to Facebook and Twitter to challenge their friends and family, as well as argue about our scoring mechanism.

“I want extra credit. I have a show dog that is a coonhound, dammit. And I have cooked and served kudzu to guests,” noted @pinkrocktopus, aka Atlantan Angela Warner, who scored 113. She posted a photograph of the men her great-great-grandfather shot for siphoning from his still. “NOW who’s Southern?” she asked. How can you argue with the progeny of a murderous moonshiner? We gave her 7 extra-credit points.

Local media types did not fare well. Creative Loafing news editor Thomas Wheatley scored just 4, while Mark Arum of WSB-TV earned 23, bested by the AJC’s Pete Corson, who racked up 35 points.

A sampling of other tweets: “I got a 69, shouldn’t I get bonus points for being born in the same hospital as Ray Charles and Paula Deen?” asked @markmcl88. “83 points. My Louisiana mother will be so proud,” bragged @sandden. “Eeek! Only 4 points and I’ve lived here for 8 years! You can take the girl out of Jersey . . .” wryly observed @robinnphoto, while @allisonyoung crowed, “I am still, very happily, a Damn Yankee.”

Okay, so everyone cares, just not all in the same way.

Southern Scores
5,016
Number of readers who took our “How Southern Are You?” quiz online between November 1 and December 1, 2012

45
Percentage who trace Southern roots at least five generations

48
Survey respondents named Jim Bob

37
Percentage who didn’t know what potlikker is

49
Percentage with UGA stickers on their vehicles

51
Percentage who can’t recognize a camellia when they see one

35
Percentage who attended Vacation Bible School

154
Highest score. This respondent inherited Grandma’s quilt, cast-iron skillet, Bible, silver, and sweet potato pie recipe.

-27
Lowest score. Yup, that’s a minus. This respondent doesn’t even eat bacon, let alone drink sweet tea.

Want to know where you fall on our Southernness meter? Take the quiz at atlanta­magazine.com/southern

Q&A with Virginia Hepner

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Last July Virginia Hepner, a twenty-five year veteran of the corporate finance world, dove into the nonprofit sector as president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center. Awaiting her was a musicians’ strike that threatened to leave Atlanta, already maligned as a lukewarm arts town, without a symphony orchestra. With that crisis averted, Hepner is now banking on a more stable and accessible future for arts and culture in the city.

Are there similarities between banking and the arts world? Whether it’s a for-profit or nonprofit organization, you need to run things in a businesslike manner. To be successful, you have to be very clear on what your mission is. In this world, it’s fulfilling our artistic and cultural vision to impact this community.

What are the big differences? In the for-profit world, if you have a great idea, it will attract capital. In the nonprofit sector, you can have the greatest need and people can agree with you, you can have the greatest artistic product, but if you can’t generate enough passion for a contributed income, it won’t happen.

How do you combat that? You do all you can to make sure you make the case to different audiences in terms of what is most important to them. For example, if I’m talking to business leaders who really understand the need to invest in the community, to attract the right workers, the right tax-paying citizens, you have to make the case for why it matters.

Does it matter here? Does Atlanta appreciate the arts? I actually think it does. Here are the facts: The Woodruff Arts Center campus was built with no public money. Even in our current campaigns, we have a budget of roughly $100 million, only about $1 million is public money. What that tells you is, for whatever reason, the private funding is exceptional. What plays into the concept that Atlanta is not really an arts town is that it’s a relatively new town. If you look at older cities that have generations of family philanthropy, it makes a big difference.

You mention wealthy private and corporate funding, are the arts accessible to those who aren’t wealthy? It’s a huge personal mission of mine. If you have art and no one gets to see it, that’s elitist, and that’s the opposite of what art is to me. Art is about communication and emotionally connecting with each other. The reason I default to the funding issue and why I think public funding is so important is because only a certain percentage of people will be able to come to Woodruff because we have to charge a certain amount to support it. The High Museum would, I’m sure, love to have a lower price or love to be free.

You also have to keep the artists happy, an issue that got attention from the ASO musicians strike. It’s just one more example that we have to be financially stable to offer what we do. This time it was a musician’s contract, another time it could be supporting the technology platform or paying maintenance on a building. It’s a sensitive topic because these are the artists. We’re here through their art to impact our community. Everything has a cost. They have tremendous value. It’s an emotional situation when you have to ask people to contribute to a cost structure. It’s an industry-wide issue, not just an Atlanta issue. The symphony is very well-run. We want it to be a world-class orchestra. We want it to be accessible from a ticket price standpoint. All of that is extremely expensive. We’ve actually increased contributed income and ticket revenue. The staff on the nonmusician side has taken pay cuts and furloughs. So it’s definitely a shared effort. But the symphony was $20 million in debt. We couldn’t find any more ways to go without asking the musicians to participate. And I really appreciate the fact that they did. It was essential to ensuring that we have a symphony in the future.

What is your vision for the future? I’d love to see arts and culture much better embraced by the business community and for political leadership to really understand the value of what we are in terms of what defines a community. We feel very supported, emotionally. But it’s not a mainstream industry, not always top of mind. My goal is to make sure we are at the table with key leadership. Whether that’s working on public education, working on public funding priorities, or drawing new businesses to town. I’m a huge Atlanta fan, and I believe we can do anything we set our minds to. I’m pretty optimistic. I have to be; I work in the arts.

Photograph by Jeff Roffman. This is an extended version of the interview that originally appeared in our December 2012 issue.

Year in Review: 2012’s Pop Hits (and Misses)

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1) Morgan Saylor
As Dana Brody, daughter of Damian Lewis’s terrorist/congressman Nick Brody on Homeland, the Decatur High student provides an emotional core—compared to the heartless adults—on Showtime’s runaway Emmy-winning drama.

2) Cat Power “Big, confident, and captivating” is how the L.A. Times describes Sun, the latest from the Cabbagetown-raised chanteuse once known as Chan Marshall.

3) The Walking Dead AMC’s undead stagger on, fueling our zombie tourism economy and racking up ratings.

4) Zac Brown Band A video by Mike Judge; an onstage gig with Gregg Allman; and a new album, Uncaged, were 2012 highlights for ZBB

5) Steel Magnolias (2012) Sure, the accents were overwrought—but they were in the original tearjerker too. Kenny Leon’s all–African American version of Magnolias set Lifetime ratings records.

6) Cartoon Network The homegrown network turned twenty—and scored Emmys for Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital and kid-friendly Regular Show.

7) Donald Glover We love Stone Mountain’s Glover as affable Troy on Community. His turn as alter-ego musician Childish Gambino? Meh.

8) Janelle Monáe
The singer/performance artist/self-described android became the coolest face of CoverGirl. Ever.

9) Tyler Perry Taking over for Morgan Freeman in the James Patterson franchise, Perry stars in Alex Cross—a big-budget movie that does not have his name in its title. Oh yeah, he also signed a production deal with Oprah.

And in the “love to hate” category . . .

10) The Vampire Diaries The Covington-and Conyers-shot vampire drama is a cheesy antidote to The Walking Dead.

11) T.I. the Novelist In case you weren’t aware, the rapper/ex-con/reality-TV star also pens fiction. His second book, Trouble & Triumph, hit shelves in September. Sample sentence: “As Power paced back and forth in his room like a caged animal, his thoughts went from his mother to Jesus to Beauty.”

12) Love & Hip Hop Atlanta Best summed up in Kelly Smith Beaty’s HuffPo essay that went viral: “I, like many of you, watched in horror as a cable network debuted yet another reality drama based on black life as it purportedly unfolds in the ATL.” Also worth noting: Star Lil Scrappy was arrested for probation violation.

Photograph by Loxy!!/Flickr. This article originally appeared in our December 2012 issue.

Inside/Out/Again

Twenty-five years ago, there was nowhere cooler in the college-rock scene than Athens, Georgia. The Classic City famously spawned R.E.M. and the B-52s as well as a massive roster of indie acts, including Love Tractor, Pylon, Flat Duo Jets, Kilkenny Cats, and Bar-B-Q Killers. All that angsty creativity was celebrated in the 1987 documentary Athens, Ga.–Inside/Out, a valentine to the city as much as its music scene. The film features concert footage intercut with a cameo by folk artist and R.E.M. collaborator Howard Finster, gospel performances, and lingering shots of downtown dives and the University of Georgia campus. It screened in limited release, and the accompanying LP soundtrack is long out of print. Omnivore Recordings is reissuing the movie on DVD this month, along with a CD soundtrack with bonuses, the highlight of which is Love Tractor and Peter Buck covering “Shattered.”

>> WATCH: The trailer to the movie, featuring plenty of classic Athens tunes

Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates

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As one of largest gastroenterology practices in the U.S., Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates’ board-certified physicians have the knowledge, skill, and experience to evaluate and treat patients suffering from all types of digestive disorders and liver disease. In addition to colon cancer screenings and nutrition counseling, the practice offers specialized care through the Center for Advanced GI Therapeutics, the Center for Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis, the Center for GI Imaging, The Hemorrhoid Clinic, The Liver Center, and the Southeastern Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders. With thirty locations and seven outpatient centers, our physicians and staff are committed to providing patients with the best possible healthcare.

Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates
550 Peachtree Street, Suite 1600
Atlanta, Georgia 30308
1-866-GO-TO-AGA (486-6242)
atlantagastro.com

ISIS OB/GYN

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At ISIS OB/GYN, we believe everyone’s time is valuable. When you visit our office, you will be seen quickly, be able to speak to an expert in our field, benefit from the best technology, and leave with all of your questions answered. That is how ISIS has grown to serve both North Fulton and Emory Johns Creek hospitals.

Through the personal attention of our doctors and staff, we have created a relaxing boutique feel in our office. While we offer all the services typical of an OB/GYN office, we go a step beyond with comfortable exam room amenities, a weight-loss program for postpartum mothers, extra time spent with the doctor or midwife, several in-office procedure options, and one of the lowest C-section rates in metro Atlanta.

Our office’s specialties include heavy menstrual cycles, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and infertility, obesity and pregnancy, birth plan assistance, facilitating unmedicated labor (natural childbirth), water births, and family planning.

Dr. Hughan R. H. Frederick; Kim Storey, CNM
Alpharetta · Johns Creek · Woodstock
770-521-2229
isisobgyn.com

John LeRoy, MD, FACS, PC

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Dr. John L. LeRoy is devoted to helping his patients enhance their appearance by providing exceptional aesthetic care for the face, breasts, and body. Dr. LeRoy is double-board-certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American College of Surgeons. He has used his cosmetic surgery training at the prestigious Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital to provide outstanding surgical results and perfect his surgical techniques for twenty years.

In 1997, Dr. LeRoy developed the original Band Aid Facelift to correct fine lines and wrinkles the easy way. Performed in-office using gentle numbing, the Band Aid Facelift has only a three to-five-day recovery time. Since then, Dr. LeRoy has extended his minimally invasive Band Aid procedures to include liposuction, tummy tuck, blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery), brow lift, and Band Aid Laser Skin Resurfacing.

In addition to his Band Aid procedures, Dr. LeRoy also performs breast procedures (augmentation, reduction, revision, and lift), liposuction, tummy tuck, and traditional facial procedures (facelift, brow lift, eyelid surgery, nose surgery, and neck lift) with a goal of helping each patient to become their most beautiful and confident self.

Among many professional affili-ations, Dr. LeRoy is a member of the American Medical Association, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the National Board of Medical Specialties, and the Georgia Society of Plastic Surgeons.

John LeRoy, MD, FACS, PC
5673 Peachtree Dunwoody Road, Suite 375
Atlanta, GA 30342
404-843-0840
johnleroymd.com

Peter Vanstrom

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For more than twenty-four years, Dr. Peter Vanstrom and his kind, gentle staff at Artistic Dentistry of Atlanta have been on the cutting edge of dental care. Utilizing the most innovative and technologically advanced approaches available today, we create beautiful smiles for a lifetime.

In our new state-of-the-art facility, we offer comfortable, affordable comprehensive care in cosmetics, implants, laser dental care, and invisible braces. We have Artisan Dental Laboratory on site to personalize every smile.

Dr. Vanstrom has been on CNN, NBC, and ABC as a dental expert and served as a consultant for the CNN medical team for many years. Currently, Dr. Vanstrom lectures to other dental professionals on dental practice management, non-surgical periodontal care, oral cancer, and laser dental care. He has lectured in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain.

Dr. Vanstrom and his lovely bride Betty have two beautiful girls. When not creating healthy, happy smiles or lecturing around the country, Dr. Vanstrom enjoys golf, tennis, scuba diving, and cooking on his grill. We look forward to serving all of your dental needs!

Artistic Dentistry of Atlanta
2296 Henderson Mill Road, Suite 108
Atlanta, GA 30345
404-325-2905
vanstrom.com

Smiles by Simmons

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Dr. Simmons is honored to be one of only eight dentists in Georgia to have passed the rigorous testing required to earn accreditation from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. His state-of-the art equipment and updated technology allow him to affordably serve his patients by providing healthy, beautiful smiles.

2381 B Main Street East
Snellville, GA 30078
770-985-2437
smilesbysimmons.com

Amber Dermont

Amber Dermont’s debut novel, “The Starboard Sea,” is set in a fictional world of beauty and privilege that she remembers clearly, but with a healthy dose of cynicism. The associate professor at Agnes Scott College grew up in a Victorian coastal village on Cape Cod. “When you grow up by the ocean, you have no idea how lucky you are,” she says. In her novel, teenager Jason Prosper is reeling from the suicide of his prep school sailing partner and first love, Cal, and trying to fit in at a new, lesser East Coast boarding school that is full of similarly rich, fallen kids. “We weren’t bad people,” Jason says, “but having failed that initial test of innocence and honor, we no longer felt burdened to be good.” He finds some comfort with a girl named Aidan and, alternately, with a smug band of annoying, perhaps dangerous classmates. It’s a coming-of-age story about learning to navigate by the right stars—or sometimes in the pitch black. The descriptive passages are lovely, whether Dermont is writing about the open sea or an ancient doorman: “In his navy wool uniform, all epaulets, gold tassels, and brass stars, his kind face glistening with sweat, Max looked like the commander of a sinking ship.” And the author is remarkably adept at writing in the voice of a teenage boy. “Not a challenge,” she says, laughing. “I have the mentality of a fourteen-year-old boy. No, I have a real love for teenagers. I really am fascinated by them, because they’re so much smarter than we are.”

An interview with Dermont

For six years, Amber Dermont has taught creative writing at Agnes Scott College in Decatur. “There’s such an incredible tradition here,” she said. “It’s stunning to me how you don’t have to ‘convert’ anyone to the beauty of creative writing.” Dermont recently was awarded a $25,000 fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts that will help her find the time and space to finish her second novel, “The Laughing Girl,” which is set against the backdrop of a 1962 plane crash near Paris, France, that took the lives of more than 100 passengers and crew, including some of Atlanta’s most dedicated art patrons.

At Dancing Goats Coffee Bar, Dermont, the daughter of rare-book dealers, talked about tradition, privilege and her debut novel, “The Starboard Sea,” a coming-of-age story written in the voice of Jason Prosper, a teenage boy at a Northeastern prep school who is mourning the loss of his best friend and sailing partner, Cal.

Your descriptions of this world—especially of sailing—are stunning. Do you sail? I do. I grew up in the very beginning of Cape Cod, in a little coastal village called Onset. When you grow up by the ocean, you have no idea how lucky you are. [Laughs] It was really important to me to get the language right, but to not have it get in the way of the story. I always loved Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Idea of Order at Key West.” . . . There’s a lot of privilege that goes along with sailing—there’s an obnoxious side to it—but if you actually know how to harness the wind, what to do with it, you do feel powerful. You feel like Prospero.

Tell me about writing in the voice of a teenage boy. Was it difficult? Not a challenge. I have the mentality of a fourteen-year-old boy. [Laughs] I have a real love of teenagers, although I myself did not have the greatest adolescence. I really am fascinated by them, because they’re so much smarter than we are. And they don’t know it, so they don’t really do anything with their own intelligence usually. I find that stage of adolescence fascinating—where you’re suddenly challenging authority, you’re pressing these boundaries, you’re defiant, and you’re doing all this in an attempt to find out what matters to you, what sense of morality you might have. And I find teenage boys incredibly funny.

So it wasn’t hard to get inside Jason’s head? I really wanted to challenge myself as much as possible. What better way than through gender? If you create a character that is very much like you, that character’s going to notice in a scene all the things that you would notice. If you write a character that’s completely unlike you, they’re going to have to notice all the things that you wouldn’t usually. So it makes you a better writer.

I heard that you do every writing assignment that you give to your students. True? Yeah, it’s true. I just feel like it’s a way of keeping me honest. If you stand up in front of a classroom and pretend to tell somebody what to do with writing, you’d better be able to do it yourself. My students may be struggling with some issue of point of view, and I can come in and say, “You know, I had the exact same struggle this weekend, and this is what I did.” They know I’m in it with them . . . Sometimes we do in-class writing, and mine is not always the best! I think that’s important for them to see. This is a struggle, a process. You don’t get it right the first time necessarily. It’s not really even about getting it right.

You’ve studied under some great writers, including one of my favorites, the late Barry Hannah. Barry Hannah is my heart. He read this manuscript in its very early stages, and he called me up right after he read it and said he loved it. He said, “I loved seeing inside the dirty windows.” He would say things like that in class. You’d come to class and just sort of wait for the wisdom. Just receive it, just receive it. He was so incredibly generous. What I think he was able to do was lead you to your authentic voice.

What have you read lately that you love? I picked up the new Alan Hollinghurst book, “The Stranger’s Child.” “The Line of Beauty” is one of my favorite books. It’s so beautiful. I’m really interested in Geoff Dyer’s essays, “Otherwise Known as the Human Condition.” Oh man, they’re so smart. And he’s such a wordsmith. I read a lot of poetry. I’m lucky to have a lot of friends who are poets. Sabrina Orah Mark—she teaches at UGA—has a collection of poems called “Tsim Tsum” that is amazing. She has another collection called “The Babies,” about all the people who weren’t born because the Holocaust happened. She’s the closest thing we have to Samuel Beckett. She’s amazing. She’s married to Reginald McKnight, who’s one of my favorite short story writers. “The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas” is one of the most beautiful collections. Whenever I have my students read that collection, there’s this moment where you feel like everybody is in it together and has learned something about writing, about how to live, about how to be a better human being. It’s nice as a teacher to have those stories that are touchstones, that you know are going to bring your student to this moment of revelation.

Do you write any poetry? I do. I think you have to be able to write everything. I very definitely love narrative, and I was initially drawn to the world of stories. I loved Robert Penn Warren when I was a kid. It was Penn Warren and Flannery O’Connor for me.

What’s your writing process? Do you write every day? My friend Holiday Reinhorn once called me a vampire. She said, “I’ll see you and then there’s suddenly a story, and I don’t know how it happened!” I work at night. I have terrible insomnia, so I stay up all night and I work. I’ve never had that experience where you sort of touch the bottom of the pool—that deep, deep sleep. It’s like the line in Martin Amis’s novel “The Information”: “And then there is the information, which is nothing, and comes at night.” Whenever I’m almost asleep, I get a line or something.

As far as a process, what you do always stays a little magical to you. You never demystify it entirely for yourself.  I don’t have a desk. I write in bed. I remember seeing a photograph of Woody Allen writing in bed. That made me feel a little better.

Anyway, the days are sort of useless to me. When I was finishing this manuscript, there were two months when all I did was write, all day long. In order to write a novel, I think you have to be in that world in such a sustained and concrete way, that anything that takes you out of that world is going to harm the process of getting back into it.

So that’s a lot different than writing a short story? Short stories are so different, because each one is so different. I have some stories that I’ve worked on for half a dozen years or more, and I have stories that I wrote in a weekend and got published three months later. And I wouldn’t say that one story was better than the other. I think some stories you receive, if you’ve done the work and you’re ready to receive.

I can’t help but notice the giant skull ring you’re wearing. What’s the story behind that? It’s my tribute to Alexander McQueen. [Laughs] When you’re writing, you always have to think about mortality. I think it’s really important to have that there. When you write, you honor the dead. You honor the great writers, and you honor the people in your life who are no longer there. You think about that.

You’ve studied with some great writers: Barry Hannah, Marilynne Robinson, Frank Conroy, Andre Dubus III . . .  I have no ego about my writing. I always just want to make it better and make it better and make it better. And I think a lot of that came out of the workshop process, where you have to defend your work but not be defensive about it. If you make your whole life your art, you figure out how to bring those stories into every part of your world.

Are there tradeoffs when you make your whole life your art? I’m very fond of my aloneness. Whenever people can’t stand their own company, I feel bad for them. I need a lot of solitude. I also don’t know anyone who has as many or as good friends as I do. But, yeah, one of the challenges of making art is dying alone.

Photograph by T.W. Meyer

*EXTENDED VERSION OF THE ARTICLE THAT RAN IN OUR MAY 2012 ISSUE

Teresa Weaver is one of our editorial contributors.
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