By Susan Shinn Turner
For the Salisbury post
RALEIGH – Mona Lisa Wallace had a story to tell. For years, she and her company, Wallace & Graham, had fought Boss Hog – pig farms in eastern North Carolina that had ruined surrounding farmland with their waste.
So she called up storyteller, Salisbury native and best-selling novelist John Hart.
There was just one problem. Hart does not write non-fiction. Still, Wallace was lucky.
“I know exactly the right person for you,” Hart told Wallace.
That person is author Corban Addison. Most Friday afternoons, Addison and Hart meet near their home in Virginia with fellow writers John Grisham and Inman Majors to chat about books, readers, and drink some wine. Or maybe more than a little wine.
“I knew Corban would put his teeth into this,” Hart said Thursday. “He is very meticulous in his research.
Wallace and Addison met within 24 hours.
The result is a new book, “Wastelands: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial”.
Addison and Grisham – who wrote the foreword – were in conversation Wednesday at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. They were joined by a busload of Wallace & Graham staff and guests from Salisbury. The library was about as full as it could get. Also present were pig farmers-turned-activists, fellow lawyers and plaintiffs in the firm’s five lawsuits.
On the book’s back cover, Grisham wrote, “Wastelands is a story I wish I had written.
Indeed, the book is fast-paced and reads like a Grisham thriller.
Like Hart, Grisham typically doesn’t write nonfiction — takes too long, he noted.
The night had a festive air for the whole company.
Addison had nothing but praise for Wallace.
“You were the very first person to trust me,” he said. “You were the very first person to open your heart.”
With Wallace on board, he said, it was like “the red carpet rolled out” when it came to who he was to interview.
“Mona Lisa Wallace is a national treasure,” he said.
When looking for a non-fiction article to tackle, he said, “Give me a true story that would hold the weight of a book, not just an article in The Atlantic magazine.”
He found that in Wallace’s story.
“It’s been hard work by dedicated people for many years,” Wallace’s partner Bill Graham said. “We weren’t taking on a case, we were taking on a cause. It was the right thing to do. We have succeeded where others have failed.
At the heart of business was nuisance, which dates back to Old English common law, Graham said. “It has to do with the use and enjoyment of your property. To add more insult, this is family land that has been passed down from generation to generation. So you’re not only protecting family land rights, but you’re doing it for generations to come.
Most of the land around the farms belonged to black families. They weren’t well-to-do people. They had no voice, until Wallace arrived.
Ultimately, the lawsuits named 500 plaintiffs in 26 communities.
“The irony was that residents didn’t want to close the pig farms,” Addison said. “They just wanted the owners to clean up their farms.”
The book contains everything that makes a good legal thriller, Grisham said — litigation, lawyers, corporate villains, people in pain, people who have been abused.
Lendora Farland’s parents were named in the lawsuits.
“I’m so excited for what they’ve done for our neighborhood,” said Farland, who lives in the McGowan neighborhood of Beulahville. “The pigs have been removed. It’s just a big difference. My mom sits on the porch every morning. I am grateful.”
Woodell McGowan, another plaintiff, appears in the first chapter as a boy in the summer of 1958.
“I think it’s great,” he said of the settlement that eventually took place. “We never thought anything could be done. But we stuck together and did what we knew we could do. The goal was to get pig farm owners to do what was right.
Addison is backed by a recent rave review from The New York Times.
“Maybe I found something new to do,” said Addison, a trained lawyer.
He next plans to write about the national toll on opioid abuse.
As for Hart – also trained as a lawyer – he’s about 100 pages into a “Redemption Road” sequel, but he’s not sure if he’ll continue. He started a new book last week and will soon know if he wants to pursue that. He took a year-long hiatus after his mother Nancy Stanback passed away last summer and is now helping to care for another family member.
Hart will be in conversation with Addison and Wallace this fall in Salisbury.
Grisham’s latest book, “Sparring Partners”, is now available.
Both titles are available from South Main Book Company in Salisbury town centre.
Susan Shinn Turner is editor of Salisbury The Magazine.