Tina Firesheets has been a writer and editor in the Triad since the late ’90s. She has worked at the News & Record and was the editor for 1808 Magazine. Her first book, 100 Things to Do in Winston-Salem Before You Die, was recently published by Reedy Press. On Sunday, Firesheets will speak about the book at Bookmarks in Winston-Salem at 3 p.m. Follow @100thingswinstonsalem on Instagram for upcoming events for the book.
How long have you lived in the Triad?
I’ve lived in the Triad since 1992, but I didn’t want to stay; I didn’t intend to stay; I thought it was a mistake. I grew up in the mountains and it was so hot that first summer. I wasn’t used to this level of humidity all day long, heading into the evening.
I really wanted to be on the west coast; I wanted to be in LA. This was around the time of the LA riots, and I wanted to do community building in the Korean community there. But then my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was in college at UNCG. It’s what brought me here.
My mom and my dad lived in Cherokee, and they ran a business there for 20 years so I felt like I could be four driving hours away but not a different time zone away.
I say that I live in Greensboro because that’s where my career is based, but I’ve lived in north High Point and Jamestown the whole time. But I do consider myself a Greensboro person.
How did the idea for this book come about?
I think what happened was an editor that I had freelanced for in Winston-Salem asked me if I might be interested in doing this. The press publishes these kinds of books all over the country. They have a 100 things to do in New Orleans, and they do state ones, and they were looking for someone to do one in Winston-Salem.
It never occurred to me to do that kind of thing or that my first book may be something like that. What made me say yes was I had to submit a pretty extensive marketing plan listing all the media I would contact, all of the bookstores that might carry it, events that would promote the book. I thought that was smart and that made me put a lot of thought on the front end on how to market the book. I thought it would be a good opportunity for me.
Having identified more with Greensboro, do you think your outside perspective helped to write book?
There was a part of me that wondered if people might think I was a fraud because I didn’t live in Winston-Salem, I didn’t work in Winston-Salem. But I was talking to [former Winston-Salem Monthly editor] Michael Breedlove and he thought that having that fresh approach might be helpful.
But you know, prior to becoming a mom, my husband and I often went to Winston-Salem. If we weren’t in Chapel Hill, we were in Winston-Salem. I was also very familiar with the city through my magazine and newspaper experience. But Winston-Salem has changed so much and it’s been exciting to watch that change. I think I’ve been able to appreciate it from more of a visitor point of view.
What were the most surprising things that you found about Winston-Salem?
It surprised me that I kind of fell in love with it, I really honestly did. I feel a little bit like a traitor saying this out loud, but I think that Winston-Salem might be a little cooler than Greensboro.
You know, the thing that I love about living in the Triad is that Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point are their own distinct little cities and towns with their own uniqueness and things to offer. And through writing the book, I really came away with a greater appreciation for that and for Winston-Salem.
I really respect the vision that it took to transform this former tobacco, textile manufacturing center into a mecca for arts and innovation. You have a very strong arts community, and in that, I include the restaurant community. It’s all very strong and thriving and supportive. And then with Innovation Quarter through its partnership with Wake Forest you have insanely smart, scienc-y stuff going on; I really respect the hell out of it. It takes quite a bit of vision and collaboration not being afraid of doing something different on the part of city leadership.
The other thing I really appreciate about Winston-Salem is how it embraces the future but also its past, its Moravian history. They’ve managed to include both stories into its identity in the way they are repurposing those old textile mills and turning them into modern-day makerspaces or whatever. I love that. It’s part of Winston-Salem’s uniqueness without it making it seem like an old, fuddy-duddy town.
What would you say are the biggest differences between Winston-Salem and Greensboro?
When I say cooler, I love what Action Greensboro is doing with the Boomerang series and how it promotes and attracts its young professionals. I think that makes Greensboro unique but what I meant by cooler is that in Winston, 20-, 30-, 40-year-old entrepreneurs are doing things a little bit differently, Anything from pop-up dining events to the way that businesses are run with an emphasis on sustainability and fair wages and fair trade.
Winston-Salem is a little bit like Asheville in this. You have pockets of Winston-Salem where there’s just a lot of creativity happening like Industry Hill or the whole area around West Salem Public House, the area around Innovation Quarter. There are pockets where things are happening. You could be out walking around on a Saturday afternoon and come across music and food trucks.
I don’t know if Greensboro is too spread out for that or the downtown hasn’t developed in that way quite yet. We have that South Elm area, but there’s just a more youthful energy that I am feeling currently in Winston-Salem and when I say youthful, I mean fresh thinking. I think it has more to offer a wider demographic.
What are some of your top items in the book?
Quarry Park; it’s so beautiful. They’re going to keep adding to that and I love that you are outside of downtown proper but you see the skyline. I’m a sucker for beautiful views over water.
I also love the Trade Street Arts District. When people ask what’s one thing you have to do and you have one day I’ll say Old Salem and Reynolda, but if you only had a couple of hours, I just love Trade Street. You’re going to get four to five different galleries with their own different vibes and you have two James Beard semi-finalist chefs at restaurants. And you have the Art Park there, and it’s just great for people-watching and just hanging out. And then you’ve got your dive bars like Single Brothers and Silver Moon Saloon. There’s a lot that’s walkable.
I was a guest on a sports culture podcast and one of the cohosts was saying that Winston-Salem was just a pit stop on the way to Asheville, but you can go to Fourth Street, park for free and not have to drive for 30 minutes to find a parking spot. Sweet Potatoes does not take reservations, but it’s a manageable wait. It’s just a little bit lower key, but it’s got a lot of the stuff that Asheville has to offer.
What was the process like for writing the book?
One of my editors pointed out to me that the food-and-drink section was disproportionate to the rest of the sections of the book, and anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised by that. I strategically made sure to write that section towards the end of the process because I wanted to make sure to have something to motivate me to finish.
Any future books or projects?
If I was going to do another one of these books I would love to do secret Asheville or something Asheville related. The downside is that the book events do take a chunk of time. For example, for this book, I’m offering curated small group tours that pull a few things from the book. I just like getting out there and that’s where I get my energy from.
I do want to write another book. For a really long time, I’ve been wanting to write my own book about my own personal story. I think I’ve been procrastinating that one, but it’s in there somewhere.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
The other thing I came away with is that the vitality and the growth of a place depends so much on the people; it reflects the people. I really got that sense from Winston-Salem in doing this project. I couldn’t have written the book without the warmth and kindness and generosity of the people and I just really want that to come through.
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