Nicole Taylor was born in and grew up in Athens, where her mother worked in a chicken plant and she shopped at Bell’s (she still does). She describes her upbringing as “aspirational and abundant,” with the same kind of intentional focus on joy that characterizes her work. The world is pain and sorrow and horror, but being alive and able to sense things is often a wonder, and that’s what the best food writers draw on. Taylor has that capacity, both in her mix of conversational tone and straightforward instruction, AND in the way she makes a recipe. She skips lightly among registers in the same way that she’ll add sumac to a cornmeal strawberry cake. It delights first with its surprise and then its naturalness, a “why didn’t I think of that?” moment.
Taylor went away from Athens for a while and saw the bigger world (Clark Atlanta, Brooklyn and more), finding her way to food journalism in the process. She came back home in 2020, settling back on some land to raise a family and make a new kind of space, although she hasn’t started gardening outside much yet because her property is full of deer. She says, “It feels good creating a space to be creative, but Athens still doesn’t know what to do with me. I’m still finding my community here, and navigating a city that is trying to catch up with honoring and celebrating Black life and culture in a real way. Home is a feeling or state of being for me.”
Taylor’s new cookbook, “Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations,” is getting all kinds of acclaim and national coverage, and it should find the same following here. It’s the first cookbook to focus on the longtime Black holiday celebrating the end of legalized slavery in the U.S., which recently became a federal and state holiday, too. But it stretches beyond that to create a vivid and personal picture of all kinds of Black celebration, food and drink. Given that we have her right here, she’s agreed to do a couple of events with Avid Bookshop this week (Juneteenth week).
On Thursday, June 16, from 6:30–8 p.m., she’ll be in conversation with writer and editor Michael B. Jordan (not to be confused with the actor who plays Killmonger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Your copy of the book, purchased from Avid either ahead of time or day of on the website or in the store, serves as your ticket to the event, which will take place in Fire Hall No. 2 (489 Prince Avenue), moved inside from its original location due to the extreme heat. Want to sit down? Get there early. Seating is first come, first serve, although there will be standing room. Taylor will sign (and personalize, if you wish) all copies of the book.
Can’t make that event? There are two more! On Friday, June 17, at 5 p.m., Avid, Taylor and pop-up the Plate Sale will collaborate on a party, also to be held at the fire hall. General admission tickets are $35 and include a plate of food, a nonalcoholic beverage, dessert, free beer and wine from Creature Comforts and McBride Sisters, starting at 6 p.m. VIP tickets will run you $100 but get you in at 5 p.m., and include a limited-edition print, Maroon Margarita Mix, Coconut Orange Salt and the chance to meet Taylor and get your book signed. Vegetarian options are included, but not other allergies or diet restrictions.
Finally, there’s a multi-course family-style Juneteenth lunch on Sunday, June 19, at 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. at The National, also done by the Plate Sale. Tickets are $85 and include a signed copy of the cookbook.
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