A PERSONAL TOUCH: Local businesses around Asheville, such as Dancing Bear Toys (above), play an indispensible role in driving the area’s economy and lending the city its unique ambiance. Through a combination of hands on ingenuity, creative approaches and a strong sense of community, Asheville’s specialty shops and boutiques are a testament to the viability of independent, locally-owned businesses in a world of big box chains and internet megastores. Photo by Max Hunt.

Local businesses drive Asheville vibe

Walk any downtown Asheville street and you’re likely to encounter some quirky storefronts offering unusual products. Together, these “specialty shops” or boutiques, most of them locally owned businesses, are a key component of the city’s distinctive flavor, attracting thousands of tourists each year and helping fuel the economy.

WORKING CLASS HERO: Appalachian native, storied balladeer and labor organizer Ella May Wiggins played a central role in the Loray Mill strike of 1929. Her life, legacy and untimely murder is examined in a new book authored by her great-granddaughter, Haw Creek Elementary teacher Kristina Horton. Image courtesy of Kristina Horton.

Working Class Hero: a Q&A with author Kristina Horton on “The Martyr of Loray Mill”

In July 2015, Kristina Horton — great-granddaughter of famed labor activist Ella May Wiggins — published Martyr of Loray Mill, a biography of her forebear. Xpress spoke with Horton ahead of her reading at Malaprop’s on Sunday, Jan. 17, to discuss Wiggins’ life, the meaning of her struggles and why it remains important to remember Ella May’s sacrifice.

FOOD CHAIN: When writing a memoir, “You can’t see the connections [between events in your life] until you’re reflecting on them retrospectively,” says musician and author Freda Love Smith. “The lines in my book are drawn by food and recipes. That’s the thing that connects the dots.”

Rock drummer Freda Love Smith pens a memoir with recipes

When Smith’s eldest son, Jonah, was in his last year of high school, she decided to give him a series of cooking lessons so he’d be self-sufficient when he left home. Those tutorials sparked the idea for a memoir that deftly stitches together family life, stories from her stints as the drummer in The Blake Babies, Antenna and The Mysteries of Life, and personal food-related memories.

LITERARY TOOLS: “I think it’s more friendly … than a lot of conferences,” says N.C. Writers’ Network Executive Director Ed Southern. “The purpose of our fall conference is to help writers produce those good manuscripts and get them into the hands of the right publisher or the right agent.” Pictured, the network’s 2013 Fall Conference in Wilmington.

North Carolina Writers’ Network celebrates 30th anniversar­y at fall conference in Asheville

“We try to honor the local literary of whatever locale we happen to be in that year,” says Nort Carolin Writers’ Network Executive Director Ed Southern. The three-day fall conference rotates locations throughout the state and this year it returns to Asheville, taking place at the DoubleTree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore Friday to Sunday, Nov. 20-22.

SHARED INSPIRATION: “As a white kid growing up playing guitar, I was as influenced by the music of Jimi Hendrix as Jimmy Page,” says author and musician David Gilbert. “I don’t think you can separate interesting cultural forms and innovation, which everybody can do. Everybody should have access to the music of Duke Ellington and the dance of Josephine Baker.”

Author David Gilbert challenges racial assumption­s in modern music

“The idea that black people and white people have distinct music and culture has its roots in racist thinking.”,” says author David Gilbert. It’s a concept he delves into in The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace. Gilbert holds a book launch and discussion at Malaprop’s Saturday, Nov. 14.