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Southern Futures With Melody Hunter-Pillion And Corban Davis

August 1, 2020 |

Melody Hunter-Pillion and Corban Davis speak with Philip on the Southern Futures Initiative and the Southern Futures podcast.




Philip Hollingsworth  00:05

Welcome to the Institute a podcast on the lives and work of fellows and friends of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I’m Philip Hollingsworth. In this episode I speak with Melody Hunter Pillion, Associate Director of Communications and Strategy at the Center for the Study of the American South, and Corbin Davis, Executive Associate and Event Planner for the Department of English and Comparative Literature. In our conversation, Melody and Corbin discuss southern Futures, a humanistic initiative led by professors Elizabeth Engelhardt and Melinda Maynor Lowery, we also talk about the southern futures podcast hosted by Melody. You can access the podcast and find more about the Southern Futures Initiative at Yeah, so melody and Corbin. Thanks very much for joining me today.

Melody Hunter Pillion  00:59

Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Corban Davis  01:02

Thanks for having me.

PH  01:03

So to start out, there’s a couple of reasons I asked both of you to be on today or speak with me today. And one is the Southern Futures Initiative that’s, that’s going through the Center for the Study of the American South. Is that correct?

MHP  01:17

So yes, it involves the Center for the Study of the American South, and we are the home for it. But actually, it’s a collection of units within the university that are supporting and a part of Southern futures. So Center for the Study of the American South College of Arts and Sciences, UNC libraries as part of this as well. So it really is more comprehensive than one center, but we are the home for southern futures.

PH  01:46

Oh, great. Great. And Corbin. Can you talk a little bit about your involvement with that? With southern futures?

CD  01:53

Yeah, so I joined UNC last year in August. So I’m the staff person that runs like the operation side of southern futures.

PH  02:03

Okay. And then I should have said this first, but what is it? What is Southern futures?

CD 02:08

Yeah so southern futures is a humanity based initiative. And it’s really all about the transformation of the South and the future of the South, we really feel like narratives, especially in the arts and humanities, are how we’re going to build bridges and, you know, have more open and honest dialogues. So we’re really looking to spark that change, coming from the arts coming from media coming from storytelling documentation, other forms of creative expression. And yeah, so the the initiative comes out of the College of Arts and Sciences, and the University Libraries,

MHP  02:46

and all of that to reimagine the American South, right, looking towards the future, reimagining this region, to build a future where all southern communities can thrive and flourish. That’s what all those methodologies will come together and do. That’s how we look at this, being able to put all those resources of research and scholars and community involvement together to look toward a future that is inclusive.

PH  03:15

Great, great. And part of that initiative is the Southern futures podcast, which I’ve had the pleasure of listening to a melody you have been hosting, I guess your how many episodes have you done so far?

MHP  03:27

Four? Well, wow, Corbin, we’ve done four, right? Oh, my goodness, isn’t that crazy. We’ve done four episodes. And then we have three more in this first series. And we are planning a second series, I hope that actually takes place and Corbin and I were just having a conversation today about who the guests might be. And I think that’s one of the most exciting things about doing this podcast is the variety of guests, the interdisciplinary backgrounds of all of our guests, and also just how engaged they are not only with their scholarship and their research and what they do, but how engaged they are with applying their work to the community. Let me also mention because I talk about scholarship and research. But also when we think about Southern futures, it’s not just the scholars who are at UNC, but we reach out to scholars at other universities. And this is the important part, we also reach out to our community members, because we always want to reach back to the community and working with communities and community sharing their narratives with us. Because that’s a big piece of this is the storytelling, sharing stories, capturing stories and listening listening to those stories and what do they tell us about our needs? And what do they tell us about who we are, but also really important to this is what do they the stories tell us about who we want to be who we think we should be?

PH  04:56

Yeah, Thank you. What advantages does the podcast format have for this, this particular goal of getting those stories out that storytelling reaching out to community members, or faculty, why why a podcast versus, say another, another medium,

CD  05:12

There are a few things that are excellent about podcast as a medium for this moment, it’s accessible there, I guess it’s easier to create, in a sense. But I think for southern futures, one of our core values is that listening is a standalone strength. And a podcast really demonstrates that, and it really provides an accessible way for people to listen, and to be a part of like, the practice of listening.

MHP  05:40

I agree with that. I think that was the first thing I was going to going to go to also is this importance of, we call it humble listening. And you really have to do that with podcasts, because it is an audio format, everything is about is about cluing into what you’re actually hearing and taking the time to stop and listen to that conversation. And so we do make it conversational, you’ll notice that we don’t call people doctor or professor this or that. In the podcast, we’re using first names, it’s really about this accessibility that Corbin talked about. And it being a conversation that, as folks are listening, they feel they can take part in the conversation because it really is a conversation for all of us to be in. And so these topics and our way of addressing these issues is done in such a way that it does reframe issues in conversations and opens up we hope opens listeners to having conversations to about the same issues we’re discussing.

PH  06:42

Yeah, I was just curious, you mentioned, you know, planning for guests and, and whatnot. But you don’t have to give me specifics. But what types of scholars or what subject areas? Are you looking forward to covering or? Or read? Or? Which, who in the community? Or which professions or whatever experiences are you looking forward to, to reaching out and covering in future episodes? Yeah, right.

MHP  07:10

So we were just talking about that, and we were getting really excited about it. So when I look at the list of the scholars we’ve interviewed, so far, it’s really interdisciplinary. And I liked that we have a strong leaning towards the humanities, because that is the storytelling. But we also when we think of storytelling and collecting stories about health needs in the community, then that’s public health. So we might have oral historians who are in the humanities, but the work they’re doing is really addressing public health needs. So you see how there’s this intersection of different disciplines. So we talk to Melinda Lowry, who’s at the Center for the Study of the American South, who is a historian, Blair, Kelly is a historian at NC State University. So we bring in someone from the other flagship university in the UNC system, to talk about what is the structure of racism that is at this, this, this core of these issues that we continue to face in our nation, and then looking at what are the solutions that the South can offer to these types of issues, since really, the deep rooted history of these issues is in the south. And that’s why this is called Southern future. So those are at Steve Weiss is the curator of the Southern Footlight collection. And he’s really talking about music, the music of the south and southern music being this very unique and distinctive American music. How do we use music in our lives? How have people used it in the past as ways of mourning? How have they used it in past social movements, like the civil rights movement, the Vietnam, you know, era, that sort of we think of the music that goes with that, but what sort of music might we be building and listening to now for current issues? And what does music do for us, even in COVID-19, at the time when we can’t, the traditional mourning? Can’t happen because of social distancing? How does music play a role as a stand in for those sort of things? So, you know, Steve talks about that. That’s a very different type of conversation, then Blair, Kelly and Melinda Maynard Lowry had, but Courtney revert is coming up. And she’s also talking about storytelling and narratives in the archives, and how these stories can be there. And all of a sudden, you go into the archives, and you’re uncovering this, these lived experiences people have had in the Depression, but what are those experiences in the way people reacted to them and the solutions that they were seeking? How does it connect to our experiences that we’re currently having now? Can those stories be almost somewhat the same? And can we learn from them? So Courtney tells us about those experiences. Dr. Mark Littell talks about history and culture and how they inform everything we do right now that most of us don’t aren’t aware of it. So Corbin should we name some of the people we’re thinking about for the next series? Are we safe in doing that are just some of the backgrounds,

CD  10:12

What I love about the current series, and what I know I’m going to love about the future series, everyone participating. Everyone who’s a part of the conversation, understands the power of narratives, and in narrative, and all of its forms, right, like a photograph is a narrative or a song is a narrative history, you know, can be a narrative. So they understand the power of that. And they understand how those narratives and how storytelling is so crucial for creating positive change. So that was consistent for the first series, and I’m sure it’ll be for the second,

MHP 10:49

I think so. No, Corbin, this doesn’t give too much away. But you talked about the different types of narratives, performance and drama are a type of narrative. So we might lean towards that, that would be something I would really love for us to talk to someone in the performing arts, about narrative, and how that helps us to express maybe our activism and our role in activism in the community, or whatever it is. But yeah, that’s the kind of person I would really want to have in our next series. And we have some people in mind, but you’ll have to stay tuned, Philip, if you’re, you know, and the audience to see who that’s going to be.

PH  11:26

If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask one more question of both of you. And this is a question we ask all our guests. What’s a book that changed your life?

MHP  11:38

Okay, so I have this list, I always tell my friends to be able to name top five books, you know, that they would go back to and read over and over. So I’m actually going to say Believe it or not two books. Oh, wow. Everybody talks about Toni Morrison. And I have to say, Song of Solomon has always been one of my favorite books ever since I’ve read it. But I love everything that Toni Morrison has written. And I will say generally about her books, what I love about them is how authentic they are with the human spirit. Her books really just moved me and there’s just something so genuine about them. That will always resonate with me whenever I read them and read her characters. Her characters are always somebody I know. So that’s why Toni Morrison, for me.

PH  12:24

That’s great. I recently read Sula, and just reading the first page, it just strikes you how rich the language is. And there’s just so much just in the in one page of a Toni Morrison novel. It’s incredible. But yeah, that’s a great, that’s a great answer.


CD  12:38

So the one this is, this is like so dark. But here we are the one that like keeps coming back for me. Parable of the Sower. Octavia Butler. Okay. I read that a few years back, I saw the opera at Carolina performing arts whenever we’re out here at Chapel Hill, which was phenomenal. But that book is just everything to me. And, you know, so pressing it, like, so important for every moment I think we’ve ever been through. But especially now. And, you know, I think also like, when I’m being honest, like that was one of the books for me, that started to give me a framework for understanding, you know, why climate change is so serious, or why certain issues are so serious, it really opened my eyes to so much. And again, it’s sort of, you know, just more evidence for the power of narrative, to create that positive change or to create that understanding of the need for change. And that was one of the books I texted out, you know, to the recommendation to everybody, you know, I was like, have you read this yet? Because if you hadn’t really need to read it now.

PH  13:49

You know, I’ve been hearing about it so much lately, and even in panels, like academic panels and stuff like that, and, and that’s one of the ones I’ve been meaning to read for some time and haven’t gotten to it. But yeah, it’s on my list. Definitely.

CD 14:03

I would get bumped that up towards the top. But for me, it’s it’s an I keep I you know, I come back to it. It’s it’s on my desk. And sometimes I’ll just open it up and you know, read a couple passages because for me, it really is sort of a guidebook. It’s narratives are a guide, right? But it’s sort of this guidebook of what’s happening, and how maybe we could get through it.

PH  14:24

I will say, I usually don’t do this, but I’m gonna I’m gonna bring up a book. Just both of for some reason, the pairing of your two book suggestions made me think of this book that I read recently. And it’s called a KIM JI Yong born 1982. It was recently translated to English it’s from Cho Nam Zhu, who’s a Korean South Korean writer. And it’s really this it’s about is this book about kind of the systemic misogyny in South Korea, but it and it’s it’s pretty short. It’s only like 150 106 He pages. And it’s it’s almost just the writing is very stark and simple. But it’s it’s pretty incredible in the way that it does so much with so little. And so I don’t know that might be it’s pretty fascinating book and it’s it’s been pretty controversial and in cause a lot of there was a movie as well in Korea that was really popular and and there’s a big clash right now and a big discussion around that book and in Korea or there was until you know, kind of the pandemic probably put a halt on some important conversations, but I wouldn’t have to read that one. Thank you for sharing that. Yeah. Yeah, so yeah, it’s really good. It’s really good. I read it maybe a month ago, but it won’t you can read it in probably two sittings. And it’s, it’s really good. Just for our audience, be sure to check out the southern futures podcast, and then also be on the lookout for other programming initiatives and work great work coming from the southern Futures Initiative itself. But I just want to say big thank you to both Melody and Corban. Thank you very much for speaking with me today. It was it was a great time.

CD 16:10

Thank you. It was fun.

MHP 16:12

Yeah, thanks for having us.

PH 16:19

Once again, go to Southern To find the podcast and more information on the southern Futures Initiative. Check back at for the latest news on our fellows and upcoming events at Hyde Hall. You can find out all our episodes of the podcast on our website, as well as iTunes, SoundCloud, and Spotify. Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at iah_unc.

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