"The South is an intimate place. It's a place of a familiar touch, of a grandmother's touch, or of a grandfather's voice telling a story." That's William Ferris, history professor and senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC-Chapel Hill, speaking on NPR earlier this month. Ferris is a master folklorist, but more importantly, he's a talker. That's how he gets people to open up and tell those deep-down, enthralling, essential stories that define a time and place. Ferris' interviews with 26 cultural luminaries are collected in a new UNC Press book, The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists, which the Center celebrates with an opening reception for an exhibition of Ferris' photographic portraits of his subjects. The book covers four decades of field work and includes a CD and DVD of original audio and films of interviews with Eudora Welty, Pete Seeger, Alice Walker, William Eggleston, Bobby Rush, C. Vann Woodward and more. The interviews reveal how essential storytelling is to Southern identity and how Ferris' subjects forged that identity. In addition to Tuesday's reception, Ferris gives a talk and signs the book at UNC's Wilson Library on Sept. 5.