Category: NC Literary Hall of Fame
Published: 29 February 2008
The Writers' Network is proud of the 2004 inductees of the Literary Hall of Fame:
- fiction writer Doris Betts
- journalist Tom Wicker
- poet James McGirt (deceased)
Like all the other inductees of this important biennial event, these writers have strong connections to North Carolina, although their reputations extend throughout the nation and beyond.
Betts, Wicker and McGirt were honored in a public ceremony at the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, NC, on Sunday, October 17, 2004 at 2 pm.
Doris Betts: 1932-
Beloved writer and teacher Doris Betts is a Statesville, North Carolina native and attended UNC-Greensboro, where she was Phi Beta Kappa. During her student days she won the Mademoiselle Magazine college fiction award and a Putnam award for her collection of short stories, The Gentle Insurrection. She is currently on the English Department faculty of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she served as Assistant Dean of the Honor Program from 1978-1981 and where she holds the title of alumni distinguished professor.
Ms. Betts has won three Sir Walter Raleigh awards, the Southern Book Award, the North Carolina Award for Literature, the John Dos Passos Prize, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Medal for the short story, among other recognitions. "The Ugliest Pilgrim," the most widely printed of her stories, was the basis of a musical that won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and later became an Academy Award winner as a short film entitled "Violet." Her Souls Raised from the Dead was on the New York Times list of top twenty best books in 1994. Among her many other acclaimed works are The Astronomer and Other Stories, Beast of the Southern Wild and Other Stories, and The Scarlet Thread.
Ms. Betts lives in Pittsboro with her husband, retired judge Lowry Betts. The Writers' Network's annual Doris Betts Fiction Prize is one more tribute to this extraordinary writer.
James McGirt: 1874-1930
James Ephraim McGirt came from rural Robeson County, North Carolina, from an African- American farm family. He is remarkable for his determination in seeking a literary career during times when this option was not available for a young black man. His stable home environment was supportive, however, and his mother especially was an influence, quoting the Bible at length, and keeping her children apart from the surrounding community. McGirt began writing while he lived and attended school in Greensboro, writing poetry and earning his bachelor's degree at Bennett College in just three years.
McGirt's first volume of poetry, Avenging the Maine, was published in 1899 by Edwards and Broughton of Raleigh. Aware of the shortcomings of his early verse, he apologized in the preface of this first book, explaining that his writing was done when he was tired from the day's work and "under very unfavorable circumstances." His later volumes of poetry were entitled, Some Simple Songs, For Your Sweet Sake, and The Triumphs of Ephraim. Moving to Philadelphia and unsatisfied with the response to his poetry, he founded McGirt's Magazine, an illlustrated monthly on art, science, literature, and other subjects. The magazine flourished for almost six years, but folded in 1909.
Although compared favorably to Charles Chesnutt, another Literary Hall of Fame inductee, McGirt finally gave up his literary career and became a successful businessman and real estate salesman. He never married, but returned to Greensboro and retained his love for writing in general and poetry in particular.
Tom Wicker: 1926-
Thomas Grey Wicker's respected talent as a journalist has taken him from his origins in Hamlet, North Carolina, to The New York Times. There he served as associate editor, former Washington bureau chief, as well as the author of the famous op-ed column "In the Nation" for thirty years. He is the author of a considerable number of acclaimed fiction and non-fiction books as well.
Wicker earned his journalism degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1948, at first wrote for papers in Aberdeen and Lumberton. He wrote for the Winston-Salem Journal for eight years and The Nashville Tennessean for two years before heading up to the Times, where he eventually retired in 1991. Wicker's famous report on the assassination of President Kennedy, written from the perspective of the motorcade following the president, has been praised as the most accurate first-hand account of the shooting. His assignment to act as an observer during the Attica Prison stand-off in New York State was described in his book A Time to Die (1975).
Wicker has also written several other works of nonfiction, ten novels, and articles in over twenty-five leading magazines. Works include Kennedy Without Tears, JFK and LBJ, One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream, and just published this year, George Herbert Walker Bush. He has also written under the penname Paul Connally. His favorite work is Unto This Hour, about the second battle of Bull Run. His numerous awards include the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame, the Sarah Josepha Hale Award, the Sacred Cat Award from the Milwaukee Press Club, and the North Carolina Award for Literature.
Although Wicker has been a popular public speaker on campuses, he considers himself to be a newspaperman first. He has been a visiting scholar at the First Amendment Center in Nashville, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. Wicker currently lives in Rochester, Vermont with his wife Pamela Hill, a television producer and VP of the Cable Network News.