Around town: Author Tommy Hays named to The Order of the Long Leaf Pine and other arts happenings

DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE: Tommy Hays says he was “blown away” when he was named to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Photo by Connie Hays

This winter, award-winning author Tommy Hays joined his wife, Connie, for lunch inside the couple’s Asheville home when he discovered a manila envelope next to his plate. “I looked up at Connie, and she was grinning,” Hays remembers. “I had no idea about what.”

The mystery was quickly solved when Hays opened the envelope and discovered he’d been named to The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the governor of North Carolina that recognizes extraordinary service to the state. Other distinguished recipients have included Maya Angelou and Coretta Scott King.

“I was really touched to receive this award,” says Hays, who retired from UNC Asheville in 2020, where he served as the executive director of the Great Smokies Writing Program and lecturer in the university’s master of liberal arts and sciences program. “But in the end, I think it’s more about the generous spirit of Western North Carolina’s writing community, which I’ve been lucky enough to be part of these many years.”

For more, see

‘Women of Distinction’

Local artist Joseph Pearson celebrates some of today’s most influential local women in his latest series, Women of Distinction. Chef Hanan Shabazz, Mayor Esther Manheimer and artist Cleaster Cotton are among the portraits featured in the collection, now on display in the upstairs gallery at Delta House Life Development of Asheville, 218 S. French Broad Ave. “I want girls and young women to be inspired and encouraged to strive toward their potential,” Pearson says. The work can be viewed Monday-Saturday, 2-6 p.m. Masks are required. The exhibit runs through Friday, April 30. For more information, visit

Drag as activism

UNC Asheville is hosting Drag as Art and Activism on Monday, March 29, 3:30-5 p.m. The virtual performance will feature four local talents: Jasmine Summers, Natasha Noir Nightly, Beulah Land and Ida Carolina. “This event aims to draw critical attention to performing arts, drag in particular, as a space for social activism and community organizing,” says Amanda Wray, associate professor of English at UNCA and the event’s organizer. Register at

Submit your song

Songwriters, the 2021 NewSong Music performance and songwriting competition is now open. This year’s event is presented by Citizen Vinyl, which will host the eight finalists for a Saturday, Dec. 4, showcase at its downtown location. Discounted entries run through Sunday, May 9. The deadline to submit is Sunday, Oct. 10. Among the many prizes, this year’s winner will receive a fully funded, six-song EP, recorded and mixed at Citizen Studios and released on the NewSong Recordings label. To learn more, visit

Arts scholarships for graduating seniors

Each spring, local arts organization Toe River Arts awards scholarships to graduating high school seniors or nontraditional students continuing their education. Applicants must be from Yancey or Mitchell counties and pursing degrees in the arts or arts education. Scholarships range from $500-$1,000. The application deadline is Thursday, April 1. To apply, visit

Arts in March

Following a 2020 hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Heart of Brevard is bringing back Arts in March, Saturday-Sunday, March 27-28. Live bands will perform throughout the two-day event. This year’s gathering will also include the inaugural youth sidewalk chalk showcase. Self-guided walking tours will lead attendees to over 30 participating businesses. Safety measures will be in place. Masks and social distancing are encouraged. To learn more, visit

Gaining Momentum

After two years of construction, Momentum Gallery recently celebrated the opening of its new two-floor space at 52 Broadway. Jordan Ahlers, owner and director, says the renovation pays homage to the building’s 100-year history with exposed bricks and original hand-painted signs still on display. Works by glass artists are among the exhibits currently featured, including original pieces by John Littleton and Kate Vogel, among others. Momentum has also partnered with Chihuly Studios, making it one of only a handful of galleries offering Dale Chihuly’s work for sale. Gallery hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. To learn more, visit


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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