Category: NC Literary Hall of Fame
Published: 29 February 2008
The Writers' Network is proud of the 2006 inductees of the Literary Hall of Fame:
- Gerald Barrax
- Fred Chappell
- Elizabeth Daniels Squire (deceased)
Gerald Barrax: 1933-
Producer Joanne Gabbin wrote "African American poetry is both furious and flowering. . . a poetry of grace and rage, of identity and struggle, combining beauty and political activism." Her description applies to the poetry of Gerald Barrax, whose work is marked by tenderness and anger, by reverie and irony, by castigation and celebration.
Born in Alabama, Gerald Barrax moved to Pittsburgh when he was ten. He served four years in the Air Force and received degrees from Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. In 1969 he joined the faculty at North Carolina Central University then moved to North Carolina State University, where he is an esteemed professor in the MFA program.
Since 1970 Barrax has published five volumes of poetry as well as work in numerous journals and anthologies. For a number of years he served as editor of Obsidian, a major contemporary journal, and as poetry editor for Callaloo.
Of African, Indian, and Dutch ancestry, Barrax has not been slow to deal with his black heritage and with the race-based injustices he has seen and/or experienced. His entry in the African American Registry reads: Gerald Barrax: a poet with humanity in mind! Marked by originality, introspection, and intellectual engagement with a wide range of subjects, his work draws from the best traditions of poetry writing. He shapes and reshapes the images, metaphors, and ideas of his poems until they satisfy his stringent requirements. His work has been honored by numerous awards, including a Ford Foundation Fellowship, the Sam Ragan Award, and the Raleigh Medal of Arts. In 2000 he was the honoree of the North Carolina Writers' Conference.
Father of five and grandfather of two, Barrax currently lives in Raleigh with his wife Joan, and continues to honor us all with his poetry.
Fred Chappell: 1936-
"An immensely gifted, exuberant, versatile writer who should be ranked among our important contemporary voices." So spoke novelist William Styron about Fred Chappell, poet, novelist, essayist, and professor. The man who inspired this ebullient tribute was born in 1936 on a farm near Canton. An avid reader, he began writing science fiction in the eighth grade, poetry in the ninth. At Duke University Chappell studied under acclaimed writing teacher William Blackburn and befriended other future literary headliners, including Reynolds Price, James Applewhite, and Anne Tyler. An editor asked if he'd be interested in writing a novel. Chappell reports, "I told him I was a poet and I wasn't really sure that fiction was a worthy endeavor." But he began writing fiction; and four novels later, Dagon won the best foreign book award from the Academie Française.
Thus began a long stellar career that has produced almost thirty volumes. Perhaps his most ambitious accomplishment has been four poetry collections paired with four novels, each based on one of the four elements -- earth, air, fire, and water -- and all reflecting Chappell's Appalachian roots as he examines the core of human experience: love, community, and mortality. In 1997, following the tenure of Sam Ragan, Chappell's remarkable versatility and skill earned him the title of North Carolina Poet Laureate.
As professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Chappell has mentored several of our state's fine poets, including Sarah Lindsay, Pulitzer-prize winner Claudia Emerson, and Kathryn Stripling Byer, who succeeded him as state Poet Laureate. His excellence in teaching was recognized by the statewide O. Max Gardner Award. Other honors include the Bollingen Prize, the T.S. Eliot Award, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. Now retired from teaching, he lives in Greensboro with his wife Susan, and continues to compose poetry, which he calls "the noblest secular endeavor that the human mind undertakes."
Elizabeth Daniels Squire: 1926-2001
Elizabeth Daniels Squire came from a noted family of letters: her grandfather, Josephus Daniels, founded and edited the Raleigh News and Observer; her father Jonathan, also an editor, authored biographies and regional studies; her sister Lucy is a novelist. So it is not surprising that Elizabeth Squire began as a journalist and married a journalist, before building her own illustrious literary niche and an enthusiastic national following for her mystery novels.
A Vassar graduate, Squire served as a columnist in Beirut and a reporter in Connecticut. When she and her husband, C.B. Squire, a New York Times correspondent, moved to a farm in Weaverville, North Carolina, she began writing mysteries, drawing for her first novel, Kill the Messenger, on her expertise in journalism. For her second, Who Killed What's-Her-Name?, Squire invented a sleuth, Peaches Dann, much like herself: a middle-aged significantly absent-minded woman who was also warm, smart, and witty. Six more Peaches Dann novels, all enlivened by humor and colorful details, were published before her creator's untimely death in 2001.
Early on, Squire authored a collection of biographical sketches of twenty-five journalists, proclaiming that journalists have profound social responsibilities -- a principle to which Squire adhered all her life. Despite the complexities of juggling career and family, she always found time to offer advice to emerging writers and support the North Carolina Writers' Network and the Southeastern Chapter of Mystery Writers. She served as a library trustee, and visited libraries and classrooms. She used her personal experience with dyslexia to inspire kids for whom reading was difficult, challenging them: "If I can become published, just think what you can do!"
Known in her home state and throughout the nation as a generous, energetic friend, Elizabeth Daniels Squire made her mark as writer, colleague, wife, mother, and citizen. She left us too soon, but her legacy will endure.