To most Davidson students, a night devoted to the library entails essay revisions, readings for the next day's class, and a sense of camaraderie as everyone works towards their deadlines. On November 2, for seven Davidson students "the library" didn't equate to noses buried in textbooks, but rather delicious crab cakes and an off-campus venture, all to support and celebrate libraries and literacy. Verse and Vino, the event the students (and faculty) attended, is an annual fundraising event put on by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Libraries where speakers and donors gather for an evening of fine dining and a discussion of literature.
It's all thanks to Meredith Lorenz Heimburger '05 that Davidson had a table at the event. Heimburger is currently on the Board of Directors of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Libraries, but back in 2004 she was just a Davidson student in Prof. Flanagan's African American Literature class.
As Heimburger explains, "When I saw that Nikki Giovanni was speaking at Verse and Vino 2017, I knew I had to invite Prof. Flanagan – I loved her class, and also Prof. Campbell, who was my advisor! And what a fun way to bring together all the things I love – books, Davidson, the library, and dinner (and wine) with friends!" Eager to celebrate her literary mentors at Davidson, Heimburger sponsored a table at the event for the English Department.
In addition to Professors Flanagan and Campbell, Prof. Garry Bertholf, assistant professor of English and Africana Studies, also attended the event and enjoyed it thoroughly. In his words, "I'm really lucky to have amazing colleagues like Professors Campbell and Flanagan, who go above and beyond and out of their way to seek out fun and exciting alternatives to the classroom – and not just for students, but for faculty as well. Indeed, these kinds of interactive heuristic approaches to teaching and mentorship are what the English Department here hopes to continue to offer our students."
These three professors reached out to students in their respective classes, and the final seven selected students were from all years and were not intimately acquainted with each other (nor the other professors) before attending the event together. However, by the end of the event, the most common comments by students was how Verse and Vino was, "a wonderful opportunity to connect with fellow English majors as well as Professors Campbell, Flanagan, and Bertholf," noted Quinn Massengill '19.
The event showcased five authors, who publish in a range of styles and genres. Kate White is a former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, and her thrillers have landed on the New York Times best-sellers list; novelist Jamie Ford writes about the Asian-American experience; Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell who co-author cookbooks. The audience was also lucky to hear from North Carolinian author and New York Times bestselling author Wiley Cash, whose most recent novel is about the woman at the center of a labor movement and strike at a textile mill in the foothills of the Appalachians.
The common consensus among Davidson attendants was that a highlight speaker of the evening was Nikki Giovanni, whose speech was as powerful as her prose. Giovanni dropped out of high school, but continued her education at first Fisk University and then Columbia's MFA program. While most well known for her poetry, she has also published a variety of other genres of literature, ranging from children's book to an autobiography. She currently is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, where she has been since 1987.
First-year student Margo Parker stated, "I think a true standout of the evening was Nikki Giovanni's presentation, in which she spoke about the role of language and emotion in creating a more compassionate space. She held the entire ballroom in rapturous silence, and I distinctly remember looking around our table and thinking how lucky I was to be here, at this moment, with these people."
As Parker's comment suggests, the evening provided a time for people somehow affiliated with the English Department to spend the evening together and celebrate literature. "At a time of year when faculty and students alike are working hard just to meet daily deadlines," Prof. Campbell explained, "we were given the gift of time to laugh together and be reminded of literature's impact on our community."
Sophie Eichelberger '20