During my visit to the set of The Longest Ride, I had a chance to sit down for a Q&A with Nicholas Sparks, author of the best-selling novel of the same name. The name “Nicholas Sparks” has become synonymous with romance, as his page-turners are transformed into on-screen love stories. The Longest Ride follows two seemingly separate romances that intertwine in an unexpected way. One of the threads that connects the couples is art – and this theme led the author to some unexpected discoveries during his research.
I read the novel on my flight to North Carolina, and something in the author’s notes that struck me was his discovery of Black Mountain College while writing this story. Given Nicholas’ passion for his home of North Carolina, I asked him if he was surprised to discover this hidden gem.
“Blew my mind, one of the greatest moments of wonderful coincidence in my entire writing career,” he told me, lighting up.
“Most people in North Carolina do not know of Black Mountain College. They’ll know of it around Asheville or whatever. But unless you are really into North Carolina history, it kind of slipped away. It was this unbelievable blip in time,” Nicholas continued. “So, I have this idea for this story, and Ira and Ruth, and I have in my mind that they’re going to collect art. And I’m sitting there thinking, “How am I going to pull this off? I live in North Carolina, right. There’s a nice Jewish couple in North Carolina. If they’re in New York, maybe you could see it happening, right. So, I said to myself, ‘How can I make this seem believable?'”
“So, my first notion was that they were just going to meet an artist who happened to be vacationing in North Carolina, befriend this person, man or woman, go with him to wherever the art scene was, and that’s how they got started. So, that was my plan. So, I said, ‘Okay. So, let’s find a North Carolina artist who might have been around in the ’40s, ’50s’. So, I Google like literally ‘North Carolina artists in the 1940s,’ or something.
And boom, up pops Black Mountain College. And it turns out that Black Mountain College was this experimental college, ran for about 24 years in the 1930s to, I think, 1956 or 1957. And it was the center of the modern art movement for American painters. Everyone from Willem de Kooning was there, to Rauschenberg, to Franz Kline, to Pat Passlof.
I mean, De Kooning’s paintings, they go for $350 million. He’s over here teaching at Black Mountain College. Buckminster Fuller was there. Robert DeNiro’s father, who was a very famous artist, he was a graduate of Black Mountain College. Came in, they did painting and sculpture, whatever they did. And it was there, and it was a couple of hours away.
So, there I’m writing, I’m looking for an artist, and I find out that this key element that I need to make the art collecting believable, that center was like two hours from where I placed them originally. I was like, ‘Wow.’ So, I called my agent and I said, ‘You are not going to believe this. You are not going to believe what I just found.’ And so, of course, then I learned all I could about Black Mountain College.”
Watch this novel come to life on the big screen when The Longest Ride hits theaters on April 10th!