Bryan Jr. Auditorium was full of students, faculty, and Greensboro residents on September 18, waiting to hear Chris Benfey read from his new book about his southern heritage, Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay. Chris Benfey graduated from Guilford in 1977 and currently teaches at Mount Holyoke College, and submitted to the Greenleaf Review back when it was just the Piper. Rather than sticking with the long and boring preamble that seems the staple of readings, Jim Hood (English professor and contemporary of Chris Benfey at Guilford) open sourced his introduction, encouraging the audience to use their smart phones and other devices to find and relay back information on Chris Benfey. When Chris Benfey began to speak the audience felt his passion for storytelling, his strong voice carrying both the words and the world behind the words. Reading from his book, Chris Benfey spoke of Quakers and North Carolina clay, of a swing next to a bamboo grove and his mother’s drowned fiance. Afterwards he spoke about how the book was originally meant to be an academic argument concerning similarities between North Carolina and China, but morphed into a memoir. The one thing I most strongly felt from his reading was the importance of his fascination and his passion. That is what drives his most recent book and captivated the audience that night. A lot has changed at Guilford since Chris Benfey graduated in 1977 (no one would have been introduced by smartphones then), but what has stayed constant is the love of great writing.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, Chris Benfey’s award-winning (first prize in poetry) poem from the 1977 Piper: