Happy Hour with Marcie & Bill Ferris

Marcie is a professor in the Department of American Studies at UNC, an editor for Southern Cultures quarterly magazine, and the author of The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region. In 2006, Marcie was nominated for a James Beard Award for her book "Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South." Her current work, “The Big Book of North Carolina Food,” explores the history, culture, and contemporary politics of food in the Tar Heel State.

Bill, a widely recognized leader in Southern studies, African American music and folklore, is the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History at UNC and the senior associate director of its Center for the Study of the American South. He is also adjunct professor in the curriculum on folklore. He has written or edited 10 books and created 15 documentary films including:

"Mississippi Blues" (1983), which was featured at the Cannes Film Festival. His most recent book, “The South in Color: A Visual Journal,” was published in 2016 by the University of North Carolina Press. 



image by: Donn Young



How did you meet?
c. 1990s. Marcie lived in Boston, where she worked in the field of public history.  Bill lived in Oxford, MS, where he directed the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.  Marcie decided Boston was too cold and lonely for a woman raised in northeastern Arkansas.  She called Bill Ferris and asked him what he knew about The Institute for Southern Jewish Life in Jackson MS.  He said, “You are the right person for that job.  Mississippi needs you.” She took the job.  Two years passed. Marcie brought her interns up to Oxford so they could read the New York Times, drink a decent cup of coffee, and visit a stellar book store.  Marcie had a meeting with Bill to discuss work opportunities.  A week later, he called at 6 AM on a Saturday morning and asked her out on a date. We will celebrate our twenty-third wedding anniversary this March.

What are you excited about that's happening in southern culture now?   
The merging of artistic expression, social justice, and the diverse voices that shape the South in projects like Trevor Schoonmaker’s monumental “Prospect New Orleans” ---which transforms that city into a multicultural gallery---and the work of the Freelon architectural firm, realized most recently in the magnificent design of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
You've both made significant contributions to southern culture. What are you most proud of? 
MF:  First, Bill’s and my former students--who are now our colleagues--include Victoria Bouloubasis (Indy Week), Whitney Brown (stone masonry), Katy Clune (The Ruby), Sandra Davidson (NC Arts Council), Laura Fieselman (UNC social innovation initiative), Emily Hilliard (state folklorist, W. VA), Graham Hoppe (writer), Sara Camp Milam (Southern Foodways Alliance), Josh Parshall (Institute of Southern Jewish Life), and Emily Wallace (Southern Cultures). My work is about developing a more nuanced understanding of the expressive power of southern food as a lens onto the region’s complex history and future.  I am honored to serve as a co-editor of UNC’s award-winning journal, Southern Cultures

BF: My former students, who are on a mission to make the American South a better place.  These students include Michael Taylor (singer/songwriter and founder of Hiss Golden Messenger), Brendan Greaves (founder of Paradise of Bachelors record label), Ashley Melzer (filmmaker and co-founder of Meddlesome Theatre), Aaron Smithers (archivist in the UNC Southern Folklife Collection), and Emily Wallace (artist and food writer). Mike, Ashley, and Emily now live in Durham.

MF: And Bill’s transformative vision as a southern folklorist who documents southern worlds through photography, film, and sound recordings, through which he honors the people who daily create its expressive cultures.

What is one of your favorite cultural things to do in the Triangle that some folks might miss?
Since we are both deeply connected to university worlds in the Triangle, we enjoy book talks at our local independent book stores, and lectures--such as UNC’s annual Weil Lecture on American Citizenship, recently delivered by the brilliant Rev. Dr. William J. Barber. 

How do you find quiet and foster your creativity in spite of our noisy, interruption culture today?
We walk with our labs, who are quite famous on Instagram. And we visit the North Carolina beach, especially in the winter.

What do you love most about Durham?
The vibrant culture of creativity, design, entrepreneurship, celebration of local food, and radical activism that create the best possible community for all.

What do you think our downtown needs now?
Mid-size grocery businesses and local food markets to support downtown living.

What is your biggest hope for our community?
Racial justice.

What is your favorite mixed drink or wine?!  
BF: Always a good cabernet sauvignon.
MF: Cab, too, but I enjoy a winter whiskey sour and in summertime, gin and tonics.