Winston-Salem abides in new book

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by Eric Ginsburg

It could be the smooth, deep voice, the burly beard and curly hair, his attitude or his sandals, but Chad Nance calls to mind the Dude. And like the protagonist from The Big Lebowski, this dude abides.

He abides right here in Winston-Salem, a city imprinted on his brain and probably woven into his DNA at this point. Nance grew up in the area, and his roots run deep under the concrete. One minute he’s standing and chatting with a cashier who he knows, a moment later, by chance, he sees his uncle crossing the street. followed soon after by City Councilman Jeff MacIntosh. Nance, who went to UNC School of the Arts and has lived in numerous other places, eventually returned to Winston-Salem and sunk his teeth back into it.

“It really is just a small town with skyscrapers,” he said. “You can be comfortable here.”

And while Nance does seem comfortable, sitting there at Washington Perk in a Sesame Street Christmas T-shirt and smiling after recording the “Camel City Dispatch News Hour” podcast in the building’s basement, that isn’t always the case. After all, the last chapter of his new book, The Shape I’m In: The Camel City Dispatches, takes place with Nance in the hospital.

Nance, a primary force behind the grassroots web journalism of Camel City Dispatch, has flirted with the line between an impartial journalist and a local with a big heart who has a real stake in the things he covers. Writing about his hometown and the ridiculous disconnect between human needs and politics inherently draws him in emotionally.

“The way you get invested in a community, you get angry when you see these things,” he said. “I don’t pretend to be an even arbiter.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Earlier this year, Nance vowed to take a break from political reporting because his frustration with injustices being perpetrated and vast inequality in the state and city was too much. He worked himself to the point where it landed him in the hospital, but after a brief intermission, Nance returned to discussing the hard issues before the end of the year.

The Shape I’m In, which came out on Dec. 5, chronicles much more than Nance’s personal experiences and “big opinions,” and it isn’t a regurgitation of things he had already written for Camel City Dispatch’s website.

Instead, the book is a point-in-time snapshot of Winston-Salem during a major period of transition — now — informed strongly by the city’s history, he said. It deals with voter suppression, the Magnolia Street murder, homelessness, Moral Monday protests and other things he covered for Camel City Dispatch, but the content isn’t recycled. Instead, it’s wedded to relevant history such as the Black Panther Party.

It’s not an exhaustive, definitive book of the city’s history, Nance said, but instead follows important arcs in the city’s transformation including the autocratic Committee of 100 that reformed the city government.

It’s anthropological — an autopsy, almost — but it isn’t a dispassionate telling. Nance hopes his genuine love for the city comes through in its pages, even though he views it through a critical lens.

“It’s hard on politicians,” he said. “There’s some stuff that’s almost mean.”

Nance may resemble the Dude in some elements, but he hustles too hard to be a true match. While working on the book, he would typically commit to Camel City Dispatch until 4:30 p.m. each day, take a nap, eat dinner with his kids and write parts of the book afterwards until about midnight. His kids? He has two biological sons, along with his partner’s five children, and they are part of the reason he feels so strongly about living in Winston-Salem and having an impact on its direction.

“We’re like the Brady Bunch without Alice,” he joked.

The Shape I’m In isn’t Nance’s first book, but it is the inaugural title from CCD Books, an outfit he created to publish his book and eventually, more nonfiction books by other authors as well. He already wrote a dystopian novel, and he aims for the sequel, Scarlet Stains, to come out on Valentine’s Day.

But what Nance is most known for is gonzo journalism at its best, the kind that leads him to sit there, full of energy, talking about the nuances of living in a former company town.

Everything about Nance is very Winston-Salem, from his passion to his profession. Even all the people who were paid in the making of The Shape I’m In, including the printer, are here.

And it makes sense, because that’s where the dude abides.

Find The Shape I’m In: The Camel City Dispatches at secondwindpublishing.com or the Krankies Airstream on Reynolda Road or Print Sprint in Winston-Salem.