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Eastern North Carolina Eating, The Literary Way

There are hundreds of reasons to celebrate Georgann Eubanks’ third and last in her “Literary Trails of the North Carolina” series.

Follow her travels in the just released “Literary Trails of Eastern North Carolina,” and you will have the most enjoyable and efficient survey of authors and literary connections in that region.

But one of my favorite parts of her books are the descriptions of the places where literary-connected people eat.

Here are some of those eateries.

In Raleigh, Eubanks remembers the old Ballantine’s Cafeteria as the hangout for the writers. The K&W Cafeteria has taken its place, at least for some. Kim Church set her short story “Cafeteria Lady” there. “She checks my drinking glass. ‘Sweetened?’ she asked, in case I want refills.”

Jill McCorkle recommends Candy Sue’s Café at 111 West Third Street in her hometown of Lumberton.

Melvin’s, on West Broad Street in Elizabethtown, “is a hot dog and hamburger stand that has been beloved by travelers and townspeople since 1938.”

Calabash, just north of the South Carolina border, is a Mecca for seafood fans. Eubanks recommends Ella’s and Seafood Hut as “the most authentic, according to locals” and Inlet View Bar and Grill in nearby Shallotte “if you are in town between Thursday and Sunday”.

The popular barbecue and seafood restaurant in Newton Grove, Eddie’s Café, is a part of Eric Martin’s first novel, “Luck.”

Eubanks suggests stops at “two of Goldsboro’s most famous eateries – Wilber’s Barbecue and McCall’s BBQ and Seafood Restaurant.”

Bestselling author Nicholas Sparks and his family often eat at Baker’s Kitchen, 227 Middle Street, New Bern. Eubanks recommends their French toast.

In Morehead City, a short walk from the wonderful bookstore named (not after me) DeeGee’s Gifts and Books at 508 East Evans Street, you can grab a bite at the famous Sanitary Fish Market and restaurant or at Captain Bill’s Waterfront Restaurant.

In Weldon near Roanoke Rapids, Eubanks reminds us that travelers coming from north of the Mason Dixon line “have their first chance at down-home North Carolina seafood and barbecue at Ralph’s – an establishment operated by the same family for more than six decades.”

Poet Cherryl Floyd-Miller gives a “rhythmic appraisal of the beverage of choice at Ralph’s and in her family’s household” in her poem “The Way of (Carolina) Tea.” Here is a short excerpt:

“Tea – juice we could afford.
Bags of caffeine, boiled them twice.
Southern sake mama poured
tea into tupperware gourds.”

In Jackson, Northampton County’s county seat, which is connected to author Mebane Holoman Burgwyn, Eubanks suggests the Embassy Café at 124 W. Jefferson, “where town folk trade stories and fill up on fresh seasonal vegetables and various delectable treatments of chicken and pork.”

In Duck, Eubanks tells us about Paper Canoe, a restaurant that is popular with locals, and “which sometimes serves – what else? – barbecued duck.”

The Sunny Side Oyster Bar at 1102 Washington Street in Williamston was described by two authors, Lucia Peel Powe in her book “Roanoke Rock Muddle,” and Bland Simpson in his travelogue “Into the Sound Country.”

According to Eubanks, “this one-of-a-kind restaurant serves only steamed oysters, shrimp, clams, and crab legs. The sole side dish on the menu is steamed broccoli with cheese sauce (unless saltines and beer qualify as sides). Sunny Side nearly closed in 1991, but devoted patrons came to the rescue. It is open in the months that contain the letter R.”

In Edenton, Eubanks recommends Edenton Coffeehouse, Bakery and Café, a used bookstore and a good place to get breakfast or lunch.

In Washington, N.C., Eubanks quotes poet John Hoppenthaler about his favorite place to eat. “A quick stop at Food Lion for beer & whole wheat buns, then Hog Heaven for pints of barbecue, baked beans, & slaw.” Check it out at 1969 West Fifth Street.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at

Next week’s (April 28, May 2) guest is Georgann Eubanks author of “Literary Trails of Eastern North Carolina: A Guidebook.”

The third and final volume of the “Literary Trails of North Carolina” series establishes Georgann Eubanks as the master guide to our state’s literary history. She has already taken us to Murphy and now in “Literary Trails of Eastern North Carolina: A Guidebook,” she takes us from Raleigh through the Coastal Plain all the way to Manteo.

The program will also air at Wednesday May 1 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring Sheila Kay Adams author of “My Old True Love.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

Life According To Jill McCorkle

Is there really “Life after Life”?

People asking me that question are not talking about survival of the soul. They are teasing me about my excitement about popular writer Jill McCorkle’s first novel in 17 years.

The book was officially released this week. So it is time to evaluate the results.

The novel is set in the fictional Pine Haven Retirement Center, where characters come together as residents, staff, visitors, and family.

The central character, Joanna, provides hospice-like counseling and comfort to dying residents and their loved ones. Her activities give the novel a gentle storyline and provide a persistent reminder that illness and death are an inescapable part of the experience at Pine Haven.

A mentor tells Joanna, “Make their exits as gentle and loving as possible. Tell them how good it will be, even if you don’t believe it yourself. You’re Southern, you know how to do that.”

McCorkle describes how family members embrace Joanna “like she is one of them. Lung. Brain. Breast. Uterus. Pancreas. Bone. The families discuss and explain the symptoms and diagnoses for her as if they have never been heard of before, have never happened to anyone else, and she listens.”

Each of McCorkle’s characters has a different set of challenges, but the onset of fatal illness and death is a constant.

For instance, there is Stanley, a lawyer and widower. After his wife’s death, his son moved into the family home, would not leave Stanley alone, slept beside him in his dead wife’s place in their bed, and was driving the grieving Stanley crazy.

To get away from his son, he decided to act as if he really was crazy and therefore needed to be in a retirement center. He constructed a new image for himself, a kind of senility combined with a loss of judgment that led to inappropriate remarks to women.  His crude descriptions of his desires and how he wanted to fulfill them proves that his mental condition requires institutionalization. Stanley’s crazy conduct was an act to get him away from his son and into the retirement center. It worked.

For me, however, Stanley’s act is a tragic reminder of what sometimes happens to people whose minds are slipping away. It also brings back painful personal memories of watching my father struggle to say the right things while Alzheimer’s was taking away his memory and beginning to eat away at his judgment.

Stanley’s situation did more to me. It raised fears that I, like Stanley, also a one-time lawyer, would someday be stripped of the deference that lawyers come to expect and demand. What Stanley had been did not matter much once he got to Pine Haven. Prior status might even count against new residents, especially those who made too much of their prior importance. My mother’s struggle for acceptance when she moved into her hometown retirement center was complicated by her pride in having been the active and important wife of a college president. For a time, word passed around that she needed to learn that it did not matter in the retirement center who she was or how important she had been before.

Stanley is only one of the several characters whose situations evoke sympathy, pain, and laughter.
Dealing with the presence of death is a part of life’s experience. Reading “Life after Life” deepens a reader’s realization of its oncoming approach. It makes one wonder again why we are here, why we are still here, and whether or not there is really some life after life.

McCorkle’s introductory quote from Thornton Wilder suggests her answer: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at
This week’s (March 31, April 4) guest is Jill McCorkle author of “Life after Life.”
The program will also air at Wednesday April 3 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring Ron Rash author of “One Foot in Eden.”
A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

North Carolina Writers Serve Up Spring Reading Options

Ready or not, spring is here and it is time for a seasonal update on new books important to North Carolinians.

This month’s most important literary news is the release of “Life After Life,” popular author Jill McCorkle’s first novel in 17 years. McCorkle fills a southeastern North Carolina retirement facility with quirky residents, staff, and visitors whose encounters with each other make readers wonder whether to laugh or cry. She will be the guest on North Carolina Bookwatch at noon on Sunday, March 31 and Thursday, April 4, at 5 p.m.

Understanding the actions and attitudes of our parents and grandparents in dealing with the system of oppressive racial segregation that confronted them is one of our great challenges. Some of the best Southern writers deal with our past in ways that make for compelling storytelling. UNC-Chapel Hill creative writing professor Pam Durban steps up to that challenge in her new novel, “The Tree of Forgetfulness.” (April 7, 11)

The recent temporary closings of the Hatteras Ferry and coastal Highway 12 remind us that our coast is fragile and unstable. How do we protect it? In “The Battle for North Carolina’s Coast: Evolutionary History, Present Crisis, and Vision for the Future,” retired East Carolina professor Stanley Riggs and his coauthors give the background we need to make good decisions. (April 14, 18)

Vicki Lane sets her popular novels on the farms and small towns in mountainous Madison County north of Asheville, where she and her husband have lived since moving there from Tampa, Florida, in 1975.  In “Under the Skin,” she turns her mountain surroundings into compelling fiction. (April 21, 25)

The third and final volume of the “Literary Trails of North Carolina” series establishes Georgann Eubanks as the master guide to our state’s literary history. She has already taken us to Murphy and now in “Literary Trails of Eastern North Carolina: A Guidebook,” she takes us from Raleigh through the Coastal Plain all the way to Manteo.  (April 28, May 2)

Everyone knows our health care system is in trouble, but UNC Medical School Professor Nortin Hadler is more specific and troubling when he says that conflicts of interest, misrepresentation of clinical trials, hospital price fixing, and massive expenditures for procedures of dubious efficacy point to the need for an overhaul. Who is responsible? Every citizen, says Hadler, has a duty to understand the existing system and to visualize what the outcome of successful reform might look like. Hadler provides a primer and guide to action in “The Citizen Patient: Reforming Health Care for the Sake of the Patient, Not the System.”  (May 5, 9)

Do you remember “Big Fish,” the wonderful novel by Daniel Wallace and the movie it inspired? They made us suspend disbelief and go into a magical world of stories and characters. Wallace has done it again in his latest novel, “The Kings and Queens of Roam,” which is full of the magic he uses to draw us into his worlds of imagination. (May 12, 16)

How could one of North Carolina’s most important political leaders be both a progressive champion for education and economic development and, at the same time, the leader of the white supremacy movement in our state? N.C. State Professor Lee Craig wrestles with this challenging question in his new book, “Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times.” (May 19, 23)

In reviewing Duke Professor William Chafe’s  “Bill and Hillary,” Jonathan Yardley wrote, about the Clintons, “No personalities in recent history speak more compellingly to the importance of understanding that the personal and the political are inseparable.” Chafe’s detailed study of the relationship between the power couple of all power couples shows how their relationship shaped our history.  (May 26, 29)



D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch.” During UNC-TV’s Festival, the program  airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at
Next week’s (Thursday, March 28 at 5 p.m.) guest is Sheri Castle, author of “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes.” (Note the Sunday airing will be preempted by UNC-TV’s Festival programming). The program will also air at Wednesday March 27 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring the late Reynolds Price author of “A Serious Way of Thinking.”



Watauga County native Sheri Castle’s “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes” is a guide to finding the best seasonal foods in our region. She organizes her recipes into about 40 chapters, each featuring a different vegetables or fruit.
More about Sheri Castle:
Castle is a popular food writer and cooking teacher who celebrates delicious and healthy home cooked meals made possible by fresh, local, seasonal food. She has packaged that enthusiasm into “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes.”
Castle’s book has about 40 chapters, each one devoted to one particular fruit or vegetable from apples to zucchini. She suggests that you go to the market without a shopping list, buy what is the most freshly available and tasty, bring it home, consult her book, and find all kinds of ways to prepare your purchase.
Castle entertains her readers with stories about her mountain family and even a song or two. Because I love tomatoes, here are lines she shares from a song by Guy Clark: “Only two things that money can’t buy/That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
But tomatoes are not the only stars in Castle’s catalogue of fresh foods. For instance, she gives great advice to overcome two different contradictory ideas about how long to cook snap beans. “At one time, most snap beans were sturdy pole beans with thick, tough pods that required extensive cooking to become edible. However, subjecting the newer stringless varieties to long cooking would dissolve them into a tasteless mess. … If a bean pod is delicate and tender enough to eat raw, it needs quick, gentle cooking. If a bean pod is thick and has strings…, it needs long slow cooking. When you know your bean, you know your cooking method.”

Back In Time, Jill McCorkle's Timelessness

About Jill McCorkle’s upcoming new novel, Lee Smith says it is McCorkle’s “best ever.”

Wow! This news will stir up the enthusiastic fans that McCorkle earned with her novels (“The Cheer Leader,” “July 7th,” “Tending to Virginia,” “Ferris Beach,” “Carolina Moon” and “Tending to Virginia”) and collections of short stories (Final Vinyl Days,” “Creatures of Habit,” and “Going Away Shoes”)

But before we get too excited, her new book is not scheduled for release until next spring, about the same time their publisher Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill will release Lee Smith’s new novel based on Zelda Fitzgerald’s time in North Carolina.

If McCorkle’s fans cannot wait to watch her talk about the new book on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, they can watch her on a Bookwatch Classic presentation at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 13, on the UNC-TV MX digital channel available to Time-Warner subscribers on channel #172 or #4.4.

On this program that was first broadcast in 1999, McCorkle talks about “Final Vinyl Days,” a collection of short stories. Those stories, as I read them again recently, are even more delicious than they were 13 years ago.

The title story, “Final Vinyl Days,” takes us back to the times when record stores were the active centers of our music culture, before CDs, before MP3s and IPods. The people who owned them and worked there were community opinion leaders. Think about Barrie Bergman’s Record Bar in Chapel Hill, or its equivalent in almost every other North Carolina small city in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.

The story’s opener lets the reader know that the popular music of radio and record stores is going to be in the background all the way through.  “I’ll never forget the day Betts moved in,” the record store worker narrates. “How could I? Open the apartment door, and there she is, with two suitcases, a purple futon and two milk crates full of albums. It was 1984, the day after Marvin Gaye died. That is how I remember it so well. I had just gotten home from my job at Any Old Way You Choose It Music, where the Marvin Gaye bin had emptied within a couple of hours.”

How is the narrator going to deal with losing Betts, his girlfriend, who moves out as quickly as she moved in? “I didn’t miss her so much as I just missed.” Or losing again the girl who dumped him in high school? Or realizing that CDs were taking over and these were his “final vinyl days”?

My favorite, though, is “Your Husband Is Cheating on Us,” written in the voice of the mistress talking to the wife of the cheat who is two-timing both of them with a younger woman. She tells the wife not to “let him off easy. Pitch a blue blazing fit. Scream, curse, throw things. Let him have it, honey. Your husband is cheating on us. Let him have it. And when all is said and done, please just forget that I was ever here; that I ever walked the earth…Who knows if I even exist.”

This year our Sunday school class read and discussed short stories that had religious themes or dealt with challenges to faith. Somehow we missed McCorkle’s story, “The Anatomy of Man,” in which a pastor retreats to the heated baptismal pool in his church. In the pool he wrestles with his inadequate understanding of his purpose in life and the expectations he should have of himself as a minister.

“Now as he floats, drifting in and out of sleep, he feels unworthy. He feels like a failure, someone who somewhere along the line has stopped paying attention.”

Reading her stories from the 1990s and watching her talk about them this Wednesday can be like a trip back in time with Jill McCorkle, a trip where we discover her stories really are timeless.

North Carolina books for spring reading

What should I be reading this spring?

Some of you know that I get this question from my friends each year when the weather starts to warm up. And, you remember, I often respond with a list of a variety of books, each of which has a North Carolina connection and, often, just happen to be scheduled on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch’s upcoming programs.

First up is former poet laureate of North Carolina, essayist, critic, teacher mentor of many of North Carolina’s outstanding writers, recent recipient of the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities, and acknowledged by many to be the dean of the North Carolina literary community, Fred Chappell. Every student of North Carolina writing should become familiar with Chappell’s work. His recent book of short fiction, “Ancestors and Others: New and Selected Stories,” showcases his storytelling talents by taking his readers all over the world and then back to people we know in North Carolina. He will talk about the book and his writing career on North Carolina Bookwatch on Friday, May 6, at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 8, at 5 p.m.

Kathy Pories, senior editor at Algonquin Books, is the series editor of “New Stories from the South,” an annual collection of the best short fiction in our region. Reading this collection of authors like Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle is a great way to sample the best of today’s important southern fiction writers. On Bookwatch, Pories answers questions like “What sets southern literary writers apart from other American writers?” and “What makes a short story different from a short novel?” (May 13, 15)

Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton. You probably remember reading about their nightmare stories. She is brutally raped and must live with that trauma for the rest of her life. Then, based on her testimony, Cotton, though innocent, is convicted and spends more than 10 years in prison until DNA evidence proves his innocence. Their poignant story is the subject of the book they wrote together, “Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption.” (May 20, 22)

With the legislature debating whether or not to pass a law making NASCAR North Carolina’s official sport, it is a good time to read Daniel Pierce’s “Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill France.” Some North Carolina basketball and baseball fans might disagree, but there can be no argument that for many of us, stock car racing, the NASCAR variety, is their passion. They can tell you how North Carolina moonshiners driving their fast car away from the revenuers got things started. The real story, as told by Pierce, is even more interesting. (May 27,29)

In its review of Wells Tower’s collection of short stories, “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,” The New York Times reviewer wrote, “This arresting debut collection of stories decisively establishes Mr. Tower as a writer of uncommon talent.” Tower is one of the young North Carolina writers that people all over the country are watching. (June 3, 5)

Raleigh author Scott Huler is the 2011 Piedmont Laureate. Recently, he asked his readers to think about how we are surrounded by electric, telephone, and cable wires, water and sewer lines, utility poles, cell phone towers, roads, and other infrastructures that connect us. Huler followed all these links from his house to their source or final destination. He shares those journeys in his book, “On the Grid: A Plot of Land, an Average Neighborhood, and the Systems that Make our World Work” and on North Carolina Bookwatch (June 10, 12)

I hope you will save this column and use it as a guide for reading and television viewing in the next few weeks.

Now, what will YOU be reading this Spring?