Around town: Book club spotlights literature by Black authors

WELL-READ: First launched online, the Black Experience Book Club now meets in person on the fourth Friday of every month at Noir Collective AVL. Pictured is the shop’s co-founder Alexandria Monque. Photo by Chase Davis

The Black Experience Book Club now meets in person to discuss fiction and nonfiction by Black authors at the Noir Collective AVL at 6:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month.

The idea for the group was sparked in early 2020 when Buncombe County formed the Equity and Inclusion Workgroup to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in the community. The YMI Cultural Center and Buncombe County Public Libraries conversed about partnering to form a book club. As 2020 progressed and both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement grew in impact, they knew that regardless of logistical difficulties, the time had come for open intercultural dialogue.

“It’s one thing to know something intellectually or to see some statistics,” says East Asheville Library branch manager Alexandra Duncan. “And it’s another thing to have a personal conversation with somebody and hear about their reflections on the books and how those same issues may or may not impact their lives. It’s a really wonderful experience.”

In September 2020, the book club launched its meetings online. Now the group meets at the Noir Collective AVL at YMI Cultural Center in the historic Black business district of downtown Asheville. A community member moderates the group, asking questions about each book’s themes and prompting reflection among reader perspectives.

“All of the books we read are about the many different facets of the Black experience in the United States, and sometimes we read international authors,” Duncan says. All titles are available in the Buncombe libraries and can be signed out at the lending library inside of the Noir Collective.

Duncan and Alexandria Ravenel, co-founder of Noir Collective AVL, have been discussing how to tie wider community initiatives into the book club’s upcoming readings and events — including public events with authors.

February’s pick of the month is a dark fantasy novel, The Changeling by Victor LaValle, that was adapted into a television series in the past year.

“Come with an open heart and open mind, and if you don’t feel comfortable talking, you can always listen,” Duncan says.

The Noir Collective AVL is at 39 S. Market St., Suite C. Sign-up is not required. Email or for more information.

In love, art and memory 

Asheville artist and activist Connie Bostic died at her home in Fairview on Jan. 14 at the age of 87.

Bostic’s artwork, exhibited in several galleries, conveyed social issues like racial injustice, gender inequality, gun violence and more. Her Mountain Xpress column “Gallery Gossip” contributed updates from the art scene.

Catherine Bostic Southern describes her mother as a “force to be reckoned with” and someone who loved unconditionally.

“She definitely was fearless in her personal life and her art. She really never met a stranger. And she was unbelievably good at making introductions between folks that could be beneficial to both parties,” Southern says.

Southern says her mother was very humble about her work. Her goal was to open up new perspectives on the experiences of people without a voice, and she had an intuitive sense about their struggles.

Southern’s favorites from her mom’s work are a set of paintings she has hanging in her home, depicting impactful figures like Frida Kahlo and Eleanor Roosevelt with quotes painted on the bottom.

Carrying out King’s dream 

The annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative candlelight service lit up the Trinity Episcopal Church on Jan. 14 — shedding light on locals who have ignited change in the community.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County bestowed nine MLK Community Service awards on service workers, artists, activists, ministers and scholars. “The Martin Luther King Community Service Awards are given to people who have contributed to the community, in the tradition and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of promoting peace through nonviolence,” says Elizabeth Colton, chair member and organizer of the service.

Artists awarded were Stephanie Hickling Beckman, an actor, director, producer and founder of Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective in Asheville, and Cleaster Cotton, an artist, educator, inventor and author. Cotton is the founder of Youth Artists Empowered and co-founder of WNC EarthMates, and her artwork includes local murals, poetry and a public art installation tribute to the ancestors of The Block, “Going to  Market,” which is considered the gateway to Asheville’s historic Black business district.

Other service awards were granted to individuals who evoked change through ministry, politics, educational endeavors and nonprofits, including the late Nikita Chaunette Smart, Marvin Chambers, Glenn Childes, Brownie Newman, James “Jim” Purvis Pitts, Terry Van Duyn and Brad Wilson. The group award went to the Arc of Buncombe County, whose mission is to empower children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The service’s keynote speaker, Becky Stone, lives in Fairview and has embraced the power of storytelling through performing arts for over 30 years. She has researched and portrayed Pauli Murray, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou and Josephine Baker.

For more information on the MLK Association of Asheville & Buncombe County, visit

Grants awarded to Cherokee museum 

The Museum of the Cherokee People, the tribal museum of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, has been awarded two new grants that will support its endeavors to authentically share Cherokee history and culture.

A Responsive Grant from the Henry Luce Foundation will support the design and interpretation of a new main exhibit that tells the Cherokee story from a Cherokee perspective. A grant from the Duke Energy Foundation will support the research and development of an off-site facility to securely house Cherokee archives, object collections, a seed bank and collections of important plants native to Cherokee ancestral homelands. These awards follow a spring 2023 grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art to advance scholarly research by Native American scholars.

“We are so grateful that granting organizations are interested in hearing about and supporting the work we are doing,” says the museum’s executive director, Shana Bushyhead Condill of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. “For much of our history, our story was told for us. It is resonating with our partners and supporters that it is important to lift up Cherokee voices — not only for an authentic experience for our non-Native visitors, but for the health and vitality of our Cherokee community. As the tribal museum of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, we understand both the honor and responsibility we have as caretakers of our ancestral homelands. It is our job to ensure the themes we explore start with the importance of place to who we are as Cherokee people.”

The Museum of the Cherokee People is at 589 Tsali Blvd., Cherokee.

Debut country album

Anna Victoria, an independent artist from Weaverville, released her first country album on Jan. 12.

Victoria recalls receiving her guitar as a gift from her parents just a decade ago and writing songs with a future album in mind. She’s thrilled that the time has finally come. The album Forget Me Not was recorded at Echo Mountain Recording and is now streaming on all musical platforms.

Her favorite song is the first track on the album, titled “Recognize Me,” and is intended to capture the nostalgia of riding through her hometown.

“I feel like it is a great way to start off the album and to introduce myself, because it is about missing home and life changing,” Victoria says. “Nostalgia is such a weird, strange, specific feeling that you only get once in a while. And when you do get it, it’s emotional, but it’s special.”

Other songs on the album range from a breakup ballad Victoria wrote in 2016 to songs she wrote in the past couple of years. “That’s one thing I love about songwriting is I can still sing a song that I wrote a long time ago. Even if I don’t feel those feelings anymore, those feelings still mattered, and they’re still a part of me.”

Through making music, she feels connected to her heritage, the soul-stirring mountains she grew up in. She hopes her new album will project that feeling to listeners.

“My hope, in sharing this music, is that somebody will resonate with it, somebody else will be in that same space that I was in,” she says. “That’s why we make music. That’s why it exists.”

To stream Forget Me Not on different platforms, visit

A fluid art discussion

The Artsville Collective has partnered with the Ferguson Family YMCA for a full schedule of year-round art events. An exhibit of watercolors by Cynthia Llanes, an impressionistic landscape artist, will kick off 2024.

The exhibit Fluid Expressions celebrates watercolor and its unique characteristics as an art medium. On Monday, Feb. 5, 11 a.m.-noon, a group presentation, demonstration and discussion with Llanes will be hosted at the Ferguson YMCA. A YMCA membership is not required to attend.

The Ferguson Family YMCA is at 31 Westridge Market Place, Candler.


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