Decatur’s Own Margaret Schuelke Named a White House “Champion of Change”

For years, Decatur resident Margaret Schuelke has been working quietly and diligently to make DeKalb County a better place for all its citizens. As director of Project Community Connections Inc., located in Oakhurst, Margaret oversees an organization that connects people with homes. PCCI assists individuals and families experiencing homelessness with permanent housing placements and connections to mainstream resources. What they do is often called “rapid rehousing”—PCCI assumes the task of placing clients into appropriate permanent housing within the community, allowing other service providers to focus on stabilizing clients with case management.

Later this week, Margaret will travel to the nation’s capital to be honored in a ceremony at the White House as a Champion of Change in the Fight Against Youth Homelessness.” She is one of only thirteen honorees in the nation. Each week, the White House recognizes a different group of Americans who are making positive change in their communities. This week, the focus is on youth homelessness. At this event, representatives from the US Interagency Council on Homelessness and various White House officials will participate in a discussion with the Champions to hear about their efforts to serve some of our most vulnerable neighbors in their struggle with homelessness. Her story will also be featured on the White House website.

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L’Arche Movement Coming to Decatur

The house at 305 Mead Road may look like just another beautiful old Oakhurst home receiving a facelift, but it’s much more than that. It is about to become the first home in Atlanta for L’Arche, a network of intentional, faith-based communities where people with and without developmental disabilities live together. And on June 3-10, 500 representatives from 140 L’Arche communities in 40 nations will converge in Decatur for the L’Arche International General Assembly at Agnes Scott College.

Just prior to the formal assembly, June 1-3, L’Arche is coordinating a Family Weekend, in which international delegates will stay with Atlanta families. L’Arche is now seeking Atlanta—and especially Decatur—families to host two or three delegates in their homes from Friday to Sunday. “We thought it would be a good way for them to gain an understanding of the community and culture of Atlanta,” says Tina Bovermann, the events manager for the International General Assembly.

If you are curious to meet people from all over the world, consider opening your home to these guests during this weekend. According to the organizers, the weekend is “yours to make.” I have signed on to take some guests into my home that weekend, as have several of my neighbors. We will meet them at Decatur Presbyterian on Friday afternoon, then they will participate in our lives and routines with us throughout the weekend until Sunday afternoon when we will help them get to the Agnes Scott campus for the assembly. I’ll probably invite my guests to walk up to the square on Saturday morning for the farmer’s market, for example.

The assembly organizers are also encouraging hosts to take their guests to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center on Saturday. “It is no accident that we are gathering in Atlanta,” Bovermann says. “It is the home of Martin Luther King.” The last assembly took place in Kolkata, India, inspired by the work of Gandhi and Mother Theresa.

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Novelist Stacia Brown tonight at Decatur Library

When I first met Stacia Brown years ago, when she was a graduate student in religion, the main thing that struck me was her ability to think about many, many different things at once—ethics, faith, literature, history, social justice, body image, you name it—and somehow make them all make sense together.

So it stands to reason that the best outlet for her creative energies would be a historical novel—one that draws on her training and research in religion and history.

Stacia, who has graduate degrees from Emory in religion and historical theology and now works at the university, is giving an author talk and reading tonight from that novel, her first, titled Accidents of Providence, at the Decatur Library. The event, which starts at 7:15, is sponsored by the Georgia Center for the Book and Charis Bookstore.

If you like highly literate and incredibly well researched historical fiction with a suspenseful tale of a courageous woman (and I do—think Geraldine Brooks!), then you need to discover Accidents of Providence.  It tells the story of Rachel Lockyer, an ordinary tradeswoman in seventeenth-century London during the civil wars, who is condemned to death for allegedly murdering her infant born out of wedlock. But throughout her trial, she remains deliberately evasive about what she did or did not do. Rachel is an original, sharp-witted, and rebellious main character. She was drawn, Stacia has said, out of the challenge of imagining the inner life of a working-class woman of that era—a task doomed to failure, she had been assured, because women of that time did not have inner lives.

It’s a juicy, provocative story—and Stacia adds that it is also a love story, a story of women’s relationships, and a story of the telling and keeping of secrets. And it’s getting lots of praise in high places. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review with this endorsement: “A heart-poundingly vivid, intellectually provocative account. . . . a romping good read that is character-driven yet intellectually provocative on issues of law, religion and morality—historical fiction at its best.” And this from Library Journal: “This is the best kind of historical fiction—a combination of love story and murder mystery, with a sprinkling of intriguing historical snippets and wonderful writing.” Even Oprah’s magazine has called it “proof that a historical novel can be educational and entertaining, and nothing like homework.”

Stacia has a website with more information at Or come meet her tonight and pick up a copy of Accidents of Providence!

A Tuesday Tour of Tunes

Eddie’s Attic put Decatur on the map in terms of the national folk/acoustic music scene. I adore Eddie’s and I consider myself spoiled by the quality of shows there — I’ve been known to slip out of the house and up to Eddie’s on a Wednesday night to sit in a corner in the back with a beer, enjoy the heck out of a show, and be home by 9:45. I’m excited to see what the new owners might do with the space, and I am thrilled that Eddie Owen’s renewed involvement will ensure that the Attic will continue to honor the purpose it has served in support of national touring artists.

There is little room on its busy stage, however, for the many accomplished musicians we have homegrown right here. When I was an Agnes Scott student, Eddie was still a bartender at the Trackside, where I would go to hear the likes of local artists such as the Indigo Girls, Kristin Hall, and Michelle Malone. I loved it there, and I also loved going across the street to the Freight Room to hear folks like Cyndi Craven and Tom Wolf, two Atlanta acoustic mainstays who still perform in the area.

Those days are long gone, but still there is something about Decatur that wants to clear a space for the incredible muslcal talent that’s being cultivated right here at home. We are crawling with great music. It’s just a little hard to find sometimes.

It’s not so hard, though, on Tuesday nights. An actual local music scene is taking root right around the center of the city. Thinking back to a suggestion in John Kessler’s recent piece on Decatur’s dining scene that a wonderful, leisurely evening might be made of exploring the terrific culinary options the city has to offer, wouldn’t it be fun if a similar set of musical riches were to emerge?

Maybe we are well on our way. Three venues, all within a half-mile of one another around the square, are now hosting lively sessions on Tuesday nights. At these places you can find some of the best musical talent Atlanta has to offer. It’s well worth taking one night to explore all three, or to spread the joy over three weeks. Who knows? You might even find yourself setting aside your Tuesday evenings to walk up to the square and hear some music in a relaxed, comfortable setting. None of these are “open jams” or “open mics;” each promises — or even exceeds — performances that you would hear on a professional stage. Are you ready for a quick tour?

Twain’s Jazz Jam

Joe Gransden kicked off his Tuesday night jams at Twain’s Billiards and Tap on Trinity in April 2008, and it didn’t take long for this session to gain a reputation as one of the best jazz jams in Atlanta. Joe is well known in Atlanta and especially Decatur as a trumpeter and band leader par excellence, and his Tuesday nights at Twain’s draw some incredible local talent, including regulars pianist Tyrone Jackson, bassist Craig Shaw, drummer Chris Burroughs, trombone player Wes Funderburk . . . the list just goes on and on. Mosey in around 9:00, order a beer, then sit back and prepare to be blown away for several hours by the stunning musicianship on that stage. Here’s an example — a nearly nine-minute take on “Caravan” featuring Clarence Johnson on sax, Wes Funderburk on trombone, Tyrone Jackson on keys, Craig Shaw on bass, and Chris Burroughs on drums.

Marlay House Celtic Jam

If you’re called to something a little more Celtic, then jig on down to the Marlay House on Ponce for the terrific Irish sessions with, yes indeed, some of the best Celtic and acoustic players the Atlanta area has to offer. This jam, which gets rolling around 8 p.m., has been a lively weekly event since about 2009. Members of the Buddy O’Reilly Band (well known for their leading role in Atlanta’s Celtic Christmas performance), and renowned traditional players such as Moira Nelligan (fiddle player and vocalist) and Tim Cape (fiddle), Barbara Panter and Whit Connah of Hair of the Dog, and a host of other accomplished musicians circle ’round in a generous front corner booth and play unplugged. Sometimes the Irish step dancers put in an appearance, too. Later into the evening, around 10 or 10:30, the music strays from its traditional Irish bent into American old-time, swing, blues, even Cajun. Find a table near the front for a good spot to watch and listen. Here’s a segment that WPBA produced on the Marlay House jam not long ago.

Java Monkey’s Tuesday Night String Club

A Marlay House session may leave you wanting to more fully explore Decatur’s acoustic offerings. Hie thee off, then, to Java Monkey on Church Street, for the Tuesday Night String Club. Since January 2010, here have gathered some of the area’s most accomplished songwriters and players, who bring out their guitars, ukuleles, mandolins, cellos — there’s even a concertina and a piano pretty regularly — for an evening of showcases, collaborations, experimentations, and playing for the pure pleasure of it. Among the regulars are local favorites Ben Wakeman, Cyndi Craven, Ashley Filip, Billy Gewin, Bruce Gilbert, Bob Bakert, Jerry Brunner, Lindsay Petsch, Daniel Lipton, and Atlanta newcomer and former Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member, John Cable. Take your glass of wine or brew and your hunk of Southern Sweets cake out onto the patio and settle in with this intrepid and entertaining gang. Here’s a sampling of a few minutes of a recent Tuesday Night String Club evening, featuring John Cable, Lindsay Petsch, and Daniel Lipton.


Decatur-ful Townsend Prize Nominations

Amanda Kyle Williams

The ten finalists for the 2012 Townsend Prize for Fiction, awarded biennially to an outstanding novel or short-story collection published by a Georgia writer during that biennium, were announced this week, and Decatur is well represented.

Thomas Mullen

For starters, The Georgia Center for the Book, one of the prize’s sponsoring organizations, is hosted and sponsored by the DeKalb County Public Library, headquartered on Sycamore Street. And among the finalists are Decatur folks Amanda Kyle Williams, for The Stranger You Seek, and Thomas Mullen, for The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers. 

Here is the full list of finalists (and a great set of reading recommendations). Are there other Decatur connections here that I missed? Fill us in!

    • Daniel Black for Perfect Peace, St Martin’s Press
    • Lynn Cullen for Reign Of Madness, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
    • Ann Hite for Ghost On Black Mountain, Gallery Books
    • Joshilyn Jackson for Backseat Saints, Grand Central Publishing
    • Collin Kelley for Remain In Light, Vanilla Heart Publishing
    • Thomas Mullen for The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, Random House
    • Andrew Plattner for A Marriage Of Convenience, BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City
    • Josh Russell for My Bright Midnight, Louisiana State University Press
    • Joseph Skibell for A Curable Romantic, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
    • Amanda Kyle Williams for The Stranger You Seek, Bantam Books
Besides the Georgia Center for the Book, other Townsend Award sponsors are the Southern Academy for Literary Arts and Scholarly Research at Georgia Perimeter College and The Chattahoochee Review. Selected by a jury of the sponsoring organizations, a panel considered over forty books published by Georgia writers in the past two years. A board of judges awards the final prize, which consists of a $2,000 award and a silver commemorative tray.

The Prize will be awarded to the winner selected from the list of ten finalists at a ceremony on Thursday, April 26, at the Day Room of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Ann Beattie, author of Mrs. Nixon and Walks With Men, who currently serves as the Edgar Allan Poe Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, will give the keynote address at the event.

Created in 1981, the Prize was named for Jim Townsend, the founding editor of Atlanta magazine, the associate editor of Atlanta Weekly Magazine (of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), and an early mentor to such Georgia writers as Pat Conroy, Terry Kay, Bill Diehl, and Anne Rivers Siddons. Previous winners of the Townsend Prize include Kathryn Stockett for The Help, Ha Jin for The Bridegroom: Stories, and Alice Walker for The Color Purple.

Winnona Park Neighbors to the Doggie Rescue!

On the morning of New Year’s Day I was out on a run with my own fur-covered ball of canine energy when I spotted these two dogs sitting near the bridge between Poplar Circle and Shadowmoor. They were leashless and collarless, but I thought that since they were so well behaved their owner must be nearby. I began to wonder, however, when I ran by again a half-hour later, and the dogs were still there. So I took my dog home and went back to investigate later.

It turned out that several neighbors had noticed them. Someone contacted DeKalb Animal Control, who came by and picked them up. But Winnona Park resident Erin Johnson and a few others were already on the case, contacting rescue organizations and trying to find a foster home for these sweet, slightly shy but very polite pups, a male (the black one) and a female.

It took some doing, but in less than a week the dogs have found salvation . . . temporarily. They have been taken out of Animal Control. The white one is going to Friends of DeKalb Animals and the son of Winnona Park resident Wardell Castles has agreed to foster the black one. The dogs still need permanent homes.

To sweeten the pot, neighborhood residents have pledged generously toward their care — funds to help with vet bills, spaying and neutering, etc. All of this was coordinated straight out of the grassroots, over the Winnona Park listserv.

Animal rescuers are angels on earth.

Can you open your home and heart to one or a couple of sweethearts? Or could you contribute to their care fund?

To inquire about adopting the white female dog, please contact Friends of DeKalb Animals ([email protected]).  PLEASE NOTE: it has been reported that the white female has some aggression issues, so any home accepting her should be equipped and prepared to support a dog that will need some extra love and training.

To inquire about adopting the black male dog, please contact Wardell Castles at [email protected].

And please remember to support our wonderful local rescue organizations, such as Ruffus Rescue, PAWS, the Lifeline Animal Project, Friends of DeKalb Animals, Animal Action Rescue, and others. There is a great list of worthy, hardworking groups here!


Urban Agriculture Policy Best Practices Study Released

The Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory and Georgia Organics just released a comprehensive look at urban agriculture policy across the US. The 94-page study surveys the zoning ordinances of sixteen cities, from Nashville to New York and including Atlanta, for the ways in which each municipality has incorporated urban agriculture into its land use plans and practices.

You know you want to download and read this baby. It’s right here.

I, for one, hope that its readers include members of Decatur’s Zoning Ordinance Revision Task Force. There is some valuable stuff in here. Each city in the study was chosen either because of its longstanding support for urban agriculture or because of its recent efforts to revise its zoning. Ultimately, the authors of the report conclude, “there is no exact formula for the successful implementation of urban agriculture initiatives.” Each community needs to craft its own approach, based on the needs of its residents and available land.

That said, some common themes emerge. Most of the cities in the study include provisions in their zoning for community gardens, produce sales, and keeping animals, such as chickens, bees, and yes, small hoofstock (yes, I still want my goats). They do regulate these activities—especially animal keeping—and it’s well that they should, for the well being of both the human and non-human creatures. Continue reading “Urban Agriculture Policy Best Practices Study Released”