Saturday, March 22, 2014

Author Sarah Addison Allen Is Back


By Myra Schoen

Published in Black Mountain News: March 20, 2014

     You’ll discover 100 fascinating and whimsical things about The New York Times bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen on her website. Author of the recently published magical romance, Lost Lake, Allen in person is as “Light, sweet and sparkly,” as her latest novel was described in a recent review.

     For instance, Allen, who grew up and lives in Asheville, wrote her first novel at 16, “just to prove I could.” While she promises that that novel will “never see the light of day,” her next work, Tried and True, was published as a Harlequin romance under the pen name of Katie Gallagher.

     Since then, Allen has written a half-dozen bestsellers, including her latest, Lost Lake, a romance about a grieving young widow rediscovering love, an 8-year-old girl with a zest for life, and an elderly woman seeking her last great adventure. Their lives intersect at a collection of lakeside vacation cabins in hot and steamy Georgia, where magic spins dreams into reality.  

     More than anything, Allen writes about hope. “That is first and foremost in my mind, what I want readers to experience in my stories,” she said.

     Writing Lost Lake was a special challenge for Allen.

     “I had been diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2011, and it was a dark time,” Allen said. “Cancer is too hard, too mean to write about. You have a base fear of death, of failure. It’s hard to describe the journey, but it changed me. After completing a round of chemotherapy later that year, I didn’t know if I would get back to writing and touring. I couldn’t control the disease, but I knew I had to let go of the fear, and embrace hope.”

About two or three months after treatment, still in a fog, with “chemo brain,” Allen found it hard to focus.

“I thought I’d lost it,” she said. “Lost Lake was a hard book to write. I was determined not to write about cancer. Instead I wrote about grief. We take a journey of grief and come out on the other side of it, and life is still there waiting for us to live it.”

It took Allen a year and a half to complete Lost Lake. “By the time I finished, I felt whole. It taught me a lot. I could write a book after something traumatic. It didn’t have to be an anxiety-ridden process. Lost Lake helped me heal.”

Inspiration for her novels, Allen said, comes initially from a setting. “It can be the name of a town, the atmosphere, a sense of place. The place is the cornerstone for everything else. For Lost Lake, it was an image of Spanish moss, a wet swampy place.”

While Kate Pheris, the central character, was the first to inhabit the novel, Allen likes to introduce elderly characters into her stories. “I love them. They’ve had life experiences, and have a lot to offer the younger characters. They provide the moral compass.”

The Lost Lake resort may be fading and run-down, but its elderly owner, Eby Pim, is as young at heart and dream-filled as Devin, Kate’s young daughter. 

Allen earned a B.A. in Literature at University of North Carolina at Asheville. She thought it “…amazing that I could get a diploma just for reading fiction. It was like being able to major in eating chocolate.”

A shy and daydreaming child, Allen’s desire to write comes from a lifetime of reading. “The books we read in childhood influence our imagination even into adulthood.”  Her literary heroes include her Zack Allen, her father and a retired award-winning reporter and columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, Fred Chappell, Alice Hoffman, and Harper Lee, and others in the genre of magical realism touched by romance.

     What’s next for Sarah Addison Allen?

     “Fans have been asking for a sequel to Garden Spells, published in 2007, for the past seven years,” she said. “That’s what comes next….”

     And after that…certainly another compelling story spun with romance, mystery, and unforgettable characters.

Other books by Sarah Addison Allen include: Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper, Tried and True.



When Zen Becomes You


By Myra Schoen

Published in Black Mountain News – March 19, 2014

My mother’s memory was mostly gone. She remembered my sister and me, but not her grandchildren. She talked about visiting her long-gone parents. She imagined boarding a bus in Brooklyn to see them, although she’d lived in Florida for thirty-odd years, long after their passing.

Sometimes, in her mind, she prepared dinners for her older sister Lily or her twin brother David and their families, as she had in the past. Her caregivers told me, “Your mother’s been baking an apple pie this morning.” And they’d smile, watching her knead the imaginary dough.

When I visited, she’d often say, “Let’s go upstairs and see your father.” She lived in a skilled-care unit with 18 semi-private rooms. Her roommate was a woman left voiceless and immobilized by Parkinson’s. There was no upstairs.

My mother and I had had a rocky relationship from my childhood through my teens and twenties. She was critical, cold, and always angry. In those years, Father worked late. Often, he arrived home after we were all asleep. Our only shared family time was on weekends.

Mother suspected he had another, more exciting life, apart from her. Still, he was the center of her life. And when he was home, she doted on him. My sister and I adored him, too. He embraced us in warmth, lightness, and fun, dusting away Mother’s drabness and depression.     

The pattern of their marriage changed when Mother was diagnosed with cancer in her sixties, soon complicated by the onset of heart disease, macular degeneration, and dementia. To our surprise, Father became the devoted, loving husband and caregiver Mother had always desired.  

Several years later, after a severe fall left Mother with a multi-fractured leg and seizures, her daily care needs escalated. My sister found Mother the small skilled nursing unit within a larger senior “independent living” community with an excellent reputation. With good humor and grace, Father moved into a studio apartment there, to be near her.

While Mother was hand-fed by an aide in her unit’s dining room, Father prepared his own small meals in his tiny kitchen, foregoing the small talk of the elderly residents in the “independents” dining room with its perimeter of parked walkers and wheelchairs.

Once a week, I drove Father to the stores he liked, to stock up on the next week’s groceries. Ever prudent, he never bought more than one week at a time.

Mother’s attention, as always, was focused on my father. If dementia left her any sense of time, I’d bet it was measuring the hours until his afternoon visits. Whether it was the stability of their routine or something else, my mother’s anger and bitterness peeled away. Instead, a new sweetness emerged, something I took to be her true essential self that had been buried by years of emotional scarring.

     Then one night, while the world was asleep, Father got out of bed, and alone in his room, died, abruptly, suddenly. Why and how? We had no answers. My sister and I were stunned and heartsick. And we didn’t know how to tell Mother. How would she react? Would she be hysterical? Would she have another heart attack? Would she even understand?

     At first, we decided not to tell her. She was so frail in body and mind. We held the small, simple memorial service without her. As it turned out, when we finally did tell Mother, she couldn’t get her mind around it.

“What? A heart attack?” she asked. “Is he sick? Where is he?” But not the emotion, grief, tears, or hysteria we feared. After some silence, she’d ask again, “Where’s Daddy?” as if for the first time. Over and over, day after day, hour after hour, we had to remind her that he was gone.

Our visits were in a small reception area, just outside the unit director’s office. One day, the director, who couldn’t avoid hearing our conversations, took me aside. “Stop telling your mother that your father has passed. Every time she hears that, it’s a fresh assault.”

It was hard to lie, at first. But it became easier when Mother asked, as she often did, “to go upstairs and see your father,” for me to answer:  “Daddy is taking a nap,” or “Daddy is at the store,” or “Daddy is at work.” Lies, though they were, brought peace, a semblance of order in her universe.

Sometimes, if a manly figure passed by, she would visibly brighten up. Through her eyes grown dark with macular degeneration, she would see the shadowy figure as her husband, come to sit by her side and talk gently with her about their families, their memories, the life they had together.    

On a day that my son came to visit with me, she said, after he’d left, “That young man has a nice nature. He’s very friendly.” I was touched by the sweetness of her perception, even if she didn’t know he was her grandson.

Once, from the midst of her dementia-fragmented mind, she made a Zen-like proclamation, which I like to attribute as rising from her long-suppressed essence: “Not everything comes. One thing comes. Another doesn’t come.”

Isn’t that just like life?


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Greatest Generation

The Greatest Generation:

90-year-old veteran a Black Mountain Hero

Published in Black Mountain News, February 20, 2014

     Howard Pinner, Jr., who celebrated his ninetieth birthday in January, lives a peaceful family life in Black Mountain, yet is one of America’s war heroes, a much-decorated veteran of World War II.

A tall, handsome, and quiet-spoken man, Howard and his wife, Jo, have lived on a tranquil, green-lawned Black Mountain street for more than thirty years, raising two sons and two daughters, and enjoying the growth of their family with seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

You might not guess from meeting Howard that he was a courageous, determined bomber pilot who, at age 19, flew 26 perilous missions over Germany from 1943 - 1945.

 He was an 18-year-old student at Mars Hill College when he decided to become a pilot. 

“I’d wanted to be a pilot since I was a kid, hooked on the adventures of ‘Tailspin Tommy’ and ‘Smilin’ Jack’ in the comic strips,” he said. “I was in love with the idea of flying, and once I was old enough, I enlisted in the United States Army Air Force, on October 22, 1943.”

Pinner recalls the many phases of his pilot training.  On February 24, 1944, he reported for Army basic training in Miami Beach, Fla.

Earlier in February of that year, the Army’s Eighth Air Force was activated as a bomber command unit, under which Howard would come to serve after completing his pilot training on many U.S. Army bases around the country. Eventually, he was assigned to Maxwell Field, Alabama; then on to Lafayette, La.; to Walnut Ridge and Blythe Field, Ark., where he became a commissioned officer. At Drew Field, Tampa, Fla., Howard was assigned to the 10-member crew with whom he would serve for the remainder of his tour.

His rigorous pilot training included the Fairchild PT-23 trainer; Vultee BT-13 Valiant trainer; and the B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber.

The crew was as close as brothers, having spent months living and training together. Barely out of their teens, the young men had already developed the maturity and determined attitude to fiercely protect each other.

“When you’re 19, you don’t think of dying, only competing, and winning,” Pinner, the youngest of his crew, said. “And beating the enemy.”

The crew’s home base was at Nuthampstead, formerly used by England’s Royal Air Force. Howard’s unit was known as the 398th Bombardment Group (Triangle-W). The group consisted of four units of thirty-six planes each.

“We were assigned to three or five a.m. briefings,” Howard said. “It took an hour for each unit of 36 planes to assemble into V-formation. Imagine the impact of seven units – more than a thousand planes – flying one after another over Berlin and other parts of Germany and occupied Europe to undermine the pinnings of the German war machine.”

The offensive air forces of the USAAF and the RAF came to be classified as strategic or tactical. Strategic maneuvers comprised attacks beyond the enemy’s front-line forces, to destroy production and supply sites. Tactical maneuvers were designed to cover and support the men on the ground in fighting campaigns.

“Our missions were strategic,” Howard said. “I flew 26 missions as part of the invasion of Continental Europe from Britain. We carried out bombing raids on Berlin factories, Munich warehouses, Kiel shipping facilities, oil refineries, marshalling yards, and aircraft plants in other cities.”

The 398th Bombardment Group was part of the Invasion of Normandy, which Tom Brokaw later memorialized. They attacked coastal defenses and enemy troops.

From Nuthampstead, the USAAF group flew 195 combat missions between 1943-1945. According to USAAF records, it was the largest company of deployed combat Army Air Forces in numbers of aircraft, personnel, and equipment during the war.

Pinner recalled his crew would fly three days in a row in clear weather, bombing targets from 25,000 to 35,000 feet, where they were safe from ground fire and flack.

On one mission, his plane caught fire, when a plane above his in the formation blew up.

“My only option was to ditch the plane in the North Sea,” he said. “Our aircraft broke in two. We put on our Mae Wests before the plane went under water. Luckily, we were able to salvage our emergency radio and life raft. Not so lucky, we lost three men.”

Pinner said the radio engineer hooked up the radio and cranked out an SOS. The RAF in a Flying Dutchman found them and dropped parachutes, a boat, and ropes in all directions so the men could hoist themselves onto the life boat.

“It was a cold eight hours in the North Sea,” he said.

On another mission, which proved to be his last, Howard and crew were ordered to bomb an ordnance plant 20 miles from Berlin. But they were pursued and the B-17 badly damaged.

“The plane had 200 gunfire holes, only two functioning engines left, and an emptied gas tank,” Howard said. “I followed a railroad line into Kutno, Poland. The area looked deserted, but we knew there was a Russian base nearby.”

When Howard finally spotted a place he felt was safe to land, he guided the plane down. Suddenly, people appeared from everywhere, surrounding the plane.

“Although I knew a little German, I had been advised during training not to speak the language if ever caught,” he said. “Pilots who spoke German were known to have been shot at sight by those aligned with the Allies. Lucky for me, I greeted the welcoming committee in English!”

It took more than a month for Howard and his crew to leave Poland and reach safe haven, to return home. They were smuggled through Russia, Iran, Egypt, Italy, France, and finally to England.

“We arrived home – our real home in the U.S. - on V-E Day, aboard the Ile de France,” Howard added.

Some months later, Howard returned to school, enrolling at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry, and met and married Jo Mathis, his wife of 60 years.

For many years, Howard was a chemical textile colorist and plant manager for some of the nation’s largest textile manufacturers and dye plants, including Graniteville, Greenwood Mills, and Reeves Brothers. When the last plant in Old Fort closed in 1983, he and Jo decided to stay on [in Black Mountain], loving their home, the town, and the place where their family had blossomed and grown.

 “I loved flying and have no regrets about my war experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.” 

Today, Pinner points to the test pilots of stealth planes as the real heroes. “And those men re-upping for their fifth, sixth, and tenth missions on the ground and in the air. Like them, we fought to protect our brothers on either side of us. And that’s what American soldiers do: protect and serve our families.”

The end

Myra Schoen

Tuesday, February 4, 2014





Clip - cover story - The Greatest Generation

Cover Story

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Clip - cover story: FIRST at Blue Ridge

FIRST at Blue Ridge

FIRST at Blue Ridge:

Breaking Bad . . . Habits

Published in Black Mountain News:
February 6, 2014 

     Spread across three wooded acres in Ridgecrest, FIRST at Blue Ridge is a long-term residential community for chronic substance abuse treatment.

With no institutional signage to identify it or walls to surround it, FIRST’s quiet collection of buildings looks much like its mountain neighbors, with only an occasional bear to disturb the peace. It’s an idyllic setting conducive to introspection, fellowship, healing, and recovery for people who need a second chance.

Under the leadership, since 2003, of Executive Director Joseph A. Martinez, J.D., FIRST at Blue Ridge had its early beginnings in 1991 in Winston-Salem, moving to Ridgecrest in 1998. It grew from an all-male program to a community with a capacity of 160, including the recent addition of a specialized component for women, pregnant women, and soon, women with children.

A private, nonprofit charitable 501(c)(3)organization, FIRST at Blue Ridge was named a licensed Therapeutic Community by the State of North Carolina in 2005, only the second facility so named in the state at that time. Of the six current Therapeutic Community licenses in the state, FIRST holds two of them.

Martinez, a graduate of Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center, is rightfully proud of the achievement, which he shares with his staff of 26, many of whom are themselves graduates of the residential program.   

 FIRST at Blue Ridge clients are mostly young men and women, ages 18 and up, who have entered the residential program voluntarily. While some may be on probation for minor offenses, such as DUI, none have been convicted of violent crimes, sexual offenses, or arson.

Clients many be self-referred or referred by hospitals and clinics, courts, homeless shelters, and social service agencies. FIRST also maintains contracts with the Cherokee Hospital Authority for short-term, 90-day programs for members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee; with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs; and with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety for 90-day Transitional Housing, which includes substance abuse treatment and employment assistance and placement.

FIRST offers the “Vets FIRST,” program, partially funded by Veterans Affairs. Currently, treatment, housing, and case management is provided for 30 veterans – 20 men and 10 women - with chronic substance abuse issues, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), or homelessness. According to Martinez, resident vets have served in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and represent all branches of the military and many ranks.

Martinez said, “The disease of addiction makes no distinction between officer or enlisted person, fighter pilot, surgeon, or drill sergeant. 

The core 12- to 24-month residential programs offer vocational training, work opportunities, and mandatory 12-Step participation.  Programs are highly structured, disciplined, and individualized to include parenting skills, anger management, and relapse prevention.

 “Our aim is to reintegrate clients into the community and to prepare them to make the right choices for a healthy life,” Martinez said.

Since education is essential to maintaining independence and building self-esteem and confidence, clients are encouraged to complete a GED high school degree, and can attend community colleges, universities, and technical vocational schools.

 “Clients must learn marketable skills while they’re in the program,” Martinez said. “Consistency eliminates chaos.”

At the start of their residency, clients are assigned to internal work crews, learning both teamwork and new skills. Staff is onsite 24 hours a day, seven days a week to mentor, monitor, and “ensure program compliance.”

Martinez pointed out that FIRST’s internal work crews constructed much of the women’s residential building themselves. The building includes semi-private rooms, class and meeting rooms, recreation areas, dining room, and a commercial kitchen with donated equipment from Ingles, Hoodmart, and several others.

As clients progress in their treatment, they join supervised work crews that serve the Asheville area.   FIRST operates its own businesses, which help support treatment programs while providing vocational and job skills training.

Martinez has negotiated contracts with The Town of Black Mountain, The Town of Montreat, The City of Asheville, The Asheville Civic Center, Warren Wilson College and others for “commercial and residential landscaping, moving and delivery, painting, labor and handyman services, janitorial and construction cleanup.”

According to Martinez, “We’re creating tax payers, not tax burdens.”

FIRST has a ladder of progress as an incentive for individual growth and development: Residents can step up from client status to peer leader, then house manager, and even a certified staff member.

“We graduate about fifty residents each year and help them find employment and stability,” he said.

Graduates are awarded specially designed FIRST class rings, the same type as traditional rings of other educational institutions, their certificate of completion, and the knowledge that they have taken the first step to having a successful, healthy, drug-free lifestyle.    

On the last Sunday of every month, FIRST’s alumni group come together, meeting to celebrate their independence and the fellowship that brought them from recovery to discovery.


For more information, go to or call 828.669.0011.



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Black Mountain College Alumna Returns" - 
Published in Black Mountain News: January 23, 2014 

On Friday, January 24, the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center welcomes a distinguished alumna, the multi-talented Cynthia Homire, whose artistic work will be showcased in a new exhibition entitled “Cynthia Homire: Vision Quest.”

The public is invited to the free opening reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Museum, 56 Broadway, Asheville. The exhibition, featuring Homire’s drawings, paintings, pottery and writings, will be on display through May 17, 2014.

Now in her 80s, Homire retains the same enthusiasm, liveliness, and creative spirit that have infused her life and art since her student years at Black Mountain College.

In the introduction to Homire’s new collection of poetry, entitled “Vision Quest,” which will be available for sale at the Museum, Connie Bostic describes an early photo of the artist and poet as a “most attractive . . . girl with the same look of freshness, buoyancy, mischievousness and quiet curiosity found in the woman she is today.”

Attracted to the College’s avant-garde reputation for artistic expression, Homire attended the College from 1950-1954, and first studied with writers Charles Olson, M.C. Richards, and Robert Creeley.

She recalled what Charles Olson said to his students in class: “No one is writing. If you don’t write, don’t come to my class.” When Homire showed him one of her first stories, he said, “You’ll be good, if you’ll write one hundred more of these.”  

Ever the explorer, Homire took a pottery seminar at the College, and soon became enamored with the work of potters David Weinrib and Karen Karnes, and was awarded a ceramics scholarship.

“Pottery became my life’s work,” Homire said from her home in New Mexico.

In 1964, she and fellow BMC alumnus, the painter Jorge Fick, married, and settled in Santa Fe. In 1972, they opened the Fickery, where Homire crafted utilitarian stoneware that Fick glazed. Together, they also held life drawing classes, until her vision began to fade.

Diagnosed with macular degeneration in 1990, Homire’s creative spirit was undaunted. She continued to draw and write poetry, always seeking a fresh perspective, and expressing it with clarity, truth, and humor.

“Once, a friend of mine was having trouble writing about the Grand Canyon,” Homire said. “So I wrote a piece claiming the Grand Canyon didn’t exist and showed it to her. Well, that got her to write that it certainly did exist.”

Asked how she keeps inspiration alive, Homire said, “I’m inspired by something the artist Paul Klee said: ‘Take a line for a walk.’ That’s what I do. I often go from room to room, thinking. I grab out what is good about it, and work with that.”

In one of her poems, Homire writes:

     I had a fine poem

          this morning

     I took it for a walk

          as I usually do

     It’s healthy for them

     Walked it round a

          cup of tea

     A good breakfast

     Green chili cheese grits

          With an egg on top

     Took it round the

     Cleaning of dishes

     Making of bed

     Gathered up what

     was needed for a walk to

          the studio

     Picked purslane along the

          way, it’s truly abundant now.

Homire believes that the creative traditions established at Black Mountain College should be encouraged and play a significant part in everyone’s life.    

“I’m glad the Museum carries on the message that the teaching and practice of art is important. It can save the world.” 

For more information, click on, or call 828.350.8484.


By Myra Schoen


Clip - Cynthia Homire

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Big Idea in a Small Town

A Big Idea in a Small Town
by Myra Schoen
Published in Black Mountain News:
January 2, 2014


In 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president of the United States. The economic chaos of the Great Depression prevailed around the globe. Families lost homes. The jobless stood on bread lines, not assembly lines. Children went to bed hungry every night, and awoke hungry again each morning.

Not since the Great War and the flu epidemic of 1918-1919 (killing an estimated 50 million around the world) had such darkness, fear, and loss of spirit pervaded the planet.

But in a small town in North Carolina, an idea – an extraordinary dream – was taking root, and the results would eventually transform education, the arts, and culture for generations to come.

That idea was Black Mountain College.

Established by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier, and several other “free-thinking” former faculty members from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, Black Mountain College opened enrollment to 30 students in the fall of 1933. They came from New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Florida, and Wisconsin. And one, Frank Rice, from Black Mountain, North Carolina.

The college was set up in two rented buildings at the Blue Ridge Association (now known as the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly) just south of town on a hilly, rolling green campus surrounded by mountains. The College’s “Preliminary Announcement” stated that buildings were all “steam heated and protected from fire by a sprinkler system.”

The main building, Robert E. Lee Hall, provided residence for an unprecedented population mix: students, teachers, and their families all living in the same building, taking meals together in the main dining room, and sharing social and intellectual activities. Efforts were deliberately made – in the words of an early College catalog – “to make the fields of common interest as wide as possible.”

In addition to classroom spaces in both buildings, the 1,600-acre campus offered a separate gymnasium, eight tennis courts, outdoor swimming pool, playing field, and, not far away, a golf course and lake for water sports and canoeing.

The College’s American founders soon welcomed artists Josef and Anni Albers from Germany’s legendary art school, the Bauhaus (which closed in 1933 under pressure from the Nazis), along with other exiled European luminaries.

Black Mountain College combined the Bauhaus philosophy of modernistic art and design with the “progressive education” principles of American educational reformer and philosopher John Dewey. Dewey emphasized two radical distinctions from traditional American educational practices.

Those principles included respect for diversity and the importance of critical thinking. Dewey advocated that an individual’s abilities, interests, and cultural identities should be valued and encouraged to blossom.

Between 1896 and 1916, while Dewey was developing his nontraditional approaches, the priorities of America’s state-run public schools were geared to prepare students for vocational roles and dutiful citizenship. A liberal thinker, Dewey believed that the threat to individuality and diverse cultural identity put local community life and democratic participation at risk. 

Dewey feared that the rise of corporate power and private wealth that drove the uniformity of American public schools created a separation of classes, in which the rich and powerful only had access to higher education and greater opportunities.  

Dewey’s influence led to a growing national movement of progressive educators in the 1920s. At that time, while the dominant educators supported “scientific” intelligence testing and cost-benefit management, the progressives countered with methods that embraced creative and critical thought, artistic expression, and individuality. Prophetically, that debate still remains part of today’s public dialogue. 

The founders of Black Mountain College wrote, “We have found that often through working in one of the arts, students are led to an intellectual awakening more effectively than in any other way.”

At first, there were no plans to train professionals in the arts, but the arts – dramatics, painting, and music – had “an important place in the curriculum.”

Much has been written about the trendsetting artists who spent time at the College – film director Arthur Penn (of “Bonnie & Clyde” fame), choreographer Merce Cunningham, composer John Cage, architect Buckminster Fuller (who invented the geodesic dome), painter Robert De Niro Sr. (father of celebrated actor-director Robert De Niro), and many more. Yet even more significant than the influences of these artists, the College generated a greater impact on contemporary culture and the academic life.

Black Mountain College was faculty-owned and faculty- governed, with students having “a voice in all matters that affect their interests . . . in matters of work and conduct,” a ground-breaking innovation. The College promoted the concept of co-education, in which men and women would learn side by side, treated equally and on a par with each other; recruited African-American students, a landmark breakthrough; encouraged outdoor and sports activities “suitable to the environment”; and even grew its own food crops for the college community.

Seeking to focus on individual, self-directed education, the founders replaced the undergraduate divisions of freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years with a pair of two-year divisions: Junior and Senior Colleges. Junior students were offered a wide spectrum of subjects: art, biology, chemistry, dramatics, economics, English, French, German, government, Greek, history, Latin, mathematics, music, philosophy, physics, and psychology. As seniors, students would choose “a field of specialization” to be supervised by one or more tutors.

Academic success was based on student work – not grades – which was judged by professors of other, outside institutions.

Looking back through the lens of time, with the perspective of eighty years, we can only marvel at the idea that became Black Mountain College. We can only stand in awe of the dreams and work of the founders, teachers, and students, that have endured, inspired, and enriched American education and culture.

(More about Black Mountain College in future issues.)

 -The end- 

Thanks to:
Heather South, Archivist, Western Regional Archives, State of North Carolina, Department of Cultural Resources Western Office:

Alice Sebrell, Program Director, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center:

Gale Jackson, Executive Director, Black Mountain Center for the Arts: