Greensboro author said to be “one of the great writers of our era” rarely mentioned in Greensboro

It’s a mystery.

One of the most highly regarded mystery writers of the last fifty years is from Greensboro. Yet you never hear the name in Greensboro.

The New York Times speaks of “unnervingly beautiful historical novels,” and says of a particular one that it “gets it all right: a shocking crime in a bucolic setting; secretive characters who act from complex motives; a confounding puzzle elegantly presented and put before a detective with an intuitive understanding of the dark side of human nature.” 

There are forty novels, many awards. The author is Charles Todd. “One of the great writers of our era.”

There’s more to the mystery. “Charles Todd” is a pen name. The author is actually a mother and son team. They are Caroline and Charles Todd. And those are themselves pen names for Caroline and David Watjen.

And beneath that, there’s one more layer. Caroline Watjen was born Caroline Teachey in Greenboro where she grew up and graduated from UNCG.

One often hears and sees references to Greensboro authors from Tourgée to O’Henry, to Taylor and Jarrell, to Chappell and Card and Kelly. And more. But Charles Todd is rarely (ever?) mentioned. Nor Caroline, nor Watjen, nor Teachey. The books are undeniably good – whatever category or status they are accorded.

First Anti-Lynching Bill in Congress Came from Tarboro

Today (March 8, 2022), the United States Senate added its unanimous consent to anti-lynching legislation already approved by the House.

The bill makes lynching a federal hate crime. Enactment will cap 120 years of efforts to make lynchings a federal crime. Of course, murders by lynching have always been crimes under state law, but the history of lynchings is that state law enforcement officials did not prosecute them.

The original anti-lynching bill came from Tarboro.

It was introduced by Tarboro’s Congressman George Henry White in 1900. White introduced the bill, following his research into lynchings nationwide, and in the period following the 1898 murders of many black men, women, and children by white supremacists in Wilmington, NC. The Wilmington event has sometimes been referred to as a “riot,” sometimes an “insurrection,” sometimes a “coup,” and is now referred to most commonly as a “massacre.” A massacre of people because they were black.

By the time White introduced his bill in 1900, he was the sole African-American member of Congress and he held the highest government office of any black leader in the country. His biographer denominates him the country’s “first black superstar.” But, in 1899, North Carolina had amended its Constitution to add a literacy test, and White had become the object of a campaign spearheaded by the Raleigh News and Observer to run him out of office. (They ran him out of Tarboro and North Carolina to boot. His house though is still here – a door down from the intersection of Granville and St. Patrick.)

Anyway, White’s bill was not adopted in 1900. Two hundred versions of it were proposed in the ensuing 120 years. Always they were voted down or not even brought to a vote.

But now, 120 years later, this legislation, whose roots are in Tarboro, will be law.

Ticket to digital cornucopia

ALERT: This is a MidLaw public service announcement for holders of library cards in North Carolina.

Ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and music are online. They are free. From the public library. The technology is superb. You can use it from your device, wherever you are, whenever you like.

There’s an app. It’s easy and intuitive even for “traditional” library patrons. You never need to go downtown. Your choice.

The collection is huge. Its contents are what you find in a public library, mostly popular titles.

You must have a device or devices. You must download something. It’s called Libby. Everything is synchronized across all your devices.

Here’s what you do:

  • You need a library card, or at least the number.
  • You make your way online to your library’s website (media section), or go directly to North Carolina Digital Library. (This is for your information. You don’t need to do anything at this site, but it will give you the following link.)
  • Then you go to the Libby App page. That page has complete information. Scroll all the way down. It will link you to the normal places for downloading apps.
  • Go download the Libby app.

After you are set up, it’s just like the library, except you can do it at home, or at the beach – or in the Bahamas. You search the collection. You check out books or other items. You may need to place a hold. You must renew after 15 days.

You can read items on Kindle, or you can read on the Libby app. You can listen to audiobooks on Libby, which is a high-quality audio program that works in all the usual places: on your phone, in the car, etc.

Here’s a big deal: you must “return” the items, but don’t worry about being late. When your time runs out, if you haven’t returned or renewed, the item goes back automatically. No special trip to the nearest branch. The time and productivity dividends from this feature alone must be astronomical.

I think it’s amazing. You can come across a reference that interests you; go to the Library right then, from the same chair; and download it right then. No charge.

Shades of Benjamin Franklin.

Forbes says, “Libby is one of the best resources out there in the e-reader world.”

All that’s left is to figure out how to download the beer.

Is MidLaw late bringing this news to you? You already knew? Good for you. Shingles doesn’t care.

First witness to plead the Fifth Amendment before Congress lies moldering in a Tarboro grave

To recall that the first person to invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege as the basis for refusing to respond to questions from Congress was from North Carolina is perhaps not untimely.

Perhaps the fact that he was a leader of the Ku Klux Klan is not irrelevant.

Maybe, knowing that he lies buried in a Tarboro churchyard is of less interest, except to a select few. Carved on his tombstone are the words: “I decline to answer.” He took the Fifth 100 times.

He was a lawyer, a Confederate colonel, a founder of the News and Observer, the North Carolina Secretary of State, a long-time trustee of the University of North Carolina, and the editor of the Colonial Records of North Carolina.

Not long ago his name was removed from a building on the campus of the University of North Carolina.

Nobel Prize to poet

“An Adventure,” from “Faithful and Virtuous Night,” by Louise Glück, quoted in NY Times.

All experience is an arch wherethro’ gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades for ever and forever when I move. Alfred Tennyson

Not fade away.

The Arc of a Professional’s Career.

Collards to go

I have learned that you can buy freshly prepared collards, by the pint and by the quart, at the drive-through window at Stamey’s in Greensboro.

Probably, this is some pandemic thing. But I interpret it as a new moment in Southern culture and foodways. Collards to go.

Drive in. “That’ll be $6.07 at the window.” Go.

I got a quart, a fork (plastic), a knife (same), and a napkin.

Down home in the Old North State.

More about chickens

Robert E. Lee kept a chicken, a hen, as a pet at his army headquarters. The army carried it about to its ultimate doom.

Indefinite antecedent acknowledged.

What the Mediterranean is for

The Mediterranean Sea is a network. It connects the peoples who live around it.

Those peoples are locked in a millennia-long competition to determine who knows the best way to cook a chicken.

Evaluating outcomes requires sampling and deliberating over an extended period, frequently revisiting initial impressions, and tracking the evolution of taste.

Nothing here disparages chickens cooked in other places.

Long ago in Southeast Asia, I learned that, while there are cultural differences respecting beef, pork, dogs, and bats, everybody eats chicken.

Except vegetarians.

Attention is the limited resource

For persons who are at an age when the word “retirement” is not irrelevant, this NY Times column strikes me as valuable: “I talked to the Cassandra of the Internet Age,”

He says, “one of the most finite resources in the world is human attention.”

Before now, I had some sense of this. If you are retired and if you are not careful, you can piss away what’s left of your life with social media.

And so I have stopped using most social media. I have not exterminated FaceBook from my machine, but that is mainly because I don’t know how to. I just don’t go on it anymore.  

Truth is, it was already getting to be that way with books. Where I grew up there was a public library, two newspapers (Tarboro Daily Southerner and Raleigh N&O), and magazines (mostly, Time, Saturday Evening Post, and American Heritage). That was it. Now, there are bookstores, used bookstores, Amazon, and Project Gutenberg. And those little free book-exchange libraries that some people put in their yards.

And, social media.

We have got to figure out how to manage the glut of almost-free information coming at us. Maybe cost is good. It assigns value. MIchael Goldhaber says

We can explore the ways in which our attention is generated, manipulated, valued, and degraded. Sometimes attention might simply be a lens through which to read the events of the moment. But it can also force us toward a better understanding of how our minds work or how we value our time and the time of others. Perhaps, just by acknowledging its presence, we can begin to direct it toward people, ideas and causes that are worthy of our precious resource.

It’s not the information that is limited anymore. It’s the attention.

If you are of a certain age, you know about limited resources. You know about conserving and marshaling resources.

“Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.”

Absolutely unbelievable

I blame cable TV.

It has sucked the meaning almost completely out of these words:

  • incredible
  • unbelievable
  • absolutely
  • awesome

It’s unbelievable.