13 June 2012

Barbara Hall. The Music Teacher. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2009.

From Fantastic Fiction.
At its heart, Chatham, Virginia, native Barbara Hall's novel The Music Teacher is about relationships. A teacher's relationship with her student. A wife's relationship with her (ex)husband. A daughter's relationship with her father. A musician's relationship with her instrument. A woman's relationship with her co-workers. A human's relationship to the earth. A person's relationship with herself.

07 June 2012

Outside Southside: Natasha Trethewey Named U.S. Poet Laureate

From http://www.loc.gov/poetry/laureate.html.
Natasha Trethewey has been recognized with many titles over the past few years:
  • Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry at Emory University
  • Member of the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame
  • 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry Recipient
  • 2008 Georgia Woman of the Year
  • 2010 Keynote Speaker at Hollins University's Commencement
  • 2012 Louis D. Rubin Writer-in-Reisdence at Hollins University
  • 2012 State Poet Laureate of Mississippi
If you do not know who Trethewey is, that is probably about to change. Earlier today, she was appointed 2012 Poet Laureate of the United States by the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington.

Trethewey, a native of Mississippi and graduate of Hollins, has been noted as a gifted poet since her first collection, Domestic Work, was published in 2000. Since then, she has received numerous accolades for her works, which include Bellocq's Ophelia (2002), Native Guard (2007), Beyond Katrina (2010), and Thrall (expected Fall 2012).

Although Hollins is not quite Southside, it's exciting to have a Virginia connection. Congratulations, Poet Laureate Trethewey!

06 June 2012

Southside Misrepresented: Heidi Schnakenberg's Kid Carolina.


I was having what was supposed to be a quiet, lazy Sunday morning of reading when I almost choked on my coffee. I had just thumbed through the pictures, browsed the index, and finished the introduction of Heidi Schnakenberg's 2010 publication Kid Carolina: R.J. Reynolds, Jr., a Tobacco Fortune, the Mysterious Death of a Southern Icon when I found it. A glaring mistake. Two of them, actually. And both in the very first sentence of the first chapter.

Before we get to the good stuff, let me give you a little bit of context. The Reynolds family is famous in North Carolina for being tobacco people (and you have probably used another product with a link to the family, Reynolds Wrap). In Winston-Salem, there are still marks of the family's legacy: the Reynolds Building (a skyscraper that was the tallest building in the South when it was built in 1929), the Reynolda House Museum of American Art; the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University, the Smith Reynolds Airport, and numerous organizations that benefited from the Reynolds' charity.

Even Southside Virginia has a strong link to the Reynolds family. The Reynolds Homestead in Patrick County is a cultural hub for local citizens. Restored and donated to Virginia Tech by Nancy Susan Reynolds (sister of R.J. Reynolds, Jr.) in 1970 as a Commonwealth Campus, the Reynolds Homestead features her father's boyhood home, Rock Spring Plantation. The surrounding community of Critz is also home to an elementary school named for Hardin Reynolds (grandfather of Nancy and R.J., Jr.).
What Schnakenberg gets wrong early on is the matter of R.J., Sr.'s birthday and the location of his birth. As you can see in this image, she claims that "Richard Joshua Reynolds Sr., founder of the family tobacco fortune, was born on July 28, 1850, in Critz County, Virginia, where his parents, Hardin and Nancy Reynolds, had settled after their marriage in 1843" (Schnakenberg, p. 1). The inaccuracy of "Critz County, Virginia," struck me first, but I quickly learned from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources that R.J., Sr., was born on July 20th, not July 28th (even Wikipedia had both right). [See the mistakes for yourself here.]

There has never been any county in Virginia named "Critz." The area of Patrick County (the true place of R.J., Sr.'s birth) "can be said to have been included in eight different counties since the formation of counties in Virginia" (Patrick County Historical Society, p. 25). These were Charles City (1634-1703), Prince George (1703-1720) Brunswick (1720-1746), Lunenburg (1746-1952), Halifax (1753-1764), Pittsylvania (1764-1776), Henry (1776-1791), and finally Patrick (1791 to present). The 1770 map below, A New and Accurate Map of Virginia shows the enormous Pittsylvania County.
A New and Accurate Map of Virginia (1770) by John Henry. Key for Southside Virginia counties: 3-Amelia, 6-Bedford, 7-Brunswick, 8-Buckingham, 11-Charlotte, 15-Dinwiddie, 23-Halifax, 35-Mecklenburg, 43-Pittyslvania, 44-Prince Edward, 52-Sussex. From http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/petitions/repecomp.html.

Henry County (formed in 1776) was named for Patrick Henry, Virginia's first governor and "one of the firebrands who had helped to stir up the people of the colony in their fervor for independence" (Patrick County Historical Society, p. 38). Fourteen years later, Patrick County was formed from western Henry County. Retaining the honor to Patrick Henry, when one looks at a map of Virginia, they see the two counties, side-by-side, that spell out his name (as seen in the 1920 map below).
From http://www.newrivernotes.com/va/patrick.htm.
Today, Critz is little more than a crossroads with the elementary school, a post office, the Reynolds Homestead, and a handful of churches. As history and heritage shows, there was never a county called "Critz County."

After picking up on these two inaccuracies, I had little interest in reading any further. Sure, they could be the only two mistakes in Schnakenberg's work, but I am skeptical to continue and trust any other information that she has collected.

As it turns out, I am not alone. Although Schnakenberg has received much praise for Kid Carolina (4 out of 5 stars on Amazon and 4.5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads), not all of the press has been positive. Novelist only gives it 2 stars out of five (although this is based on popularity). In the Summer 2010 issue of Dateline, a publication put out by the Reynolda House, Sherold D. Hollingsworth, a Reynolda Researcher, asks "Fact or Fiction? Kid Carolina." Hollingsworth explains that "[n]either Reynolda House Archives nor the Reynolda Researcher was consulted during the writing of this new book and, like other books about the Reynolds family, Reynolda House Museum of American Art takes no position on the accuracy or inaccuracy of the publication" (p. 1). Although the "myths" Hollingsworth corrects are not related to Southside Virginia, it is worth noting that there has been scholarly criticism related to Schnakenberg's work.

So where does this leave us, dear Southside Virginia enthusiasts? Is it worth getting upset about, or should we ignore it? I say yes, and no. Of course it is upsetting when something has been published that is so grossly incorrect. Patrick County had many wonderful aspects, and someone who reads Kid Carolina and looks for a "Critz County" will miss them all together. As a researcher who is constantly scared to death of writing something that is false, I empathize with Schnakenberg. However, I always check and double-check to ensure accuracy, often using various sources to keep everything balanced. I wonder how Kid Carolina was edited and how anyone could let them slip. I urge everyone to do their research... and to always read critically!

Early Virginia Religious Petitions. (n.d.). American Memory from the Library of Congress. Retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/petitions/repecomp.html
Patrick County, Virginia History, Genealogy. (2006). New River Notes. Retrieved from http://www.newrivernotes.com/va/patrick.htm
Hollingsworth, S.D. (2010). Fact or fiction? Kid Carolina. Dateline, 10(2), 1, 3.
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program. (2008). Marker: J-72 - R.J. REYNOLDS 1850-1918. Retrieved from http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?ct=ddl&sp=search&k=Markers&sv=J-72%20-%20R.%20J.%20REYNOLDS%201850-1918
Patrick County Historical Society. (1999). History of Patrick County, Virginia. Patrick County Historical Society: Stuart, Virginia.
Schnakenberg, H. (2010). Kid Carolina: R.J. Reynolds Jr., a Tobacco Fortune, and the Mysterious Death of a Southern Icon. New York: Center Street.
Virginia Tech. (2006). Reynolds Homestead. Retrieved from http://www.reynoldshomestead.vt.edu/
Wikipedia. (2012). R.J. Reynolds. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._J._Reynolds


Have you read Kid Carolina: R.J. Reynolds Jr., a Tobacco Fortune, and the Mysterious Death of a Southern Icon? Please share your opinion about the biography and this summary.

Have you ever read a work of non-fiction and found inaccuracies? What did you do?