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It’s Banned Books Week!

ALA’s #1 banned book of the decade

The annual Banned Books Week runs September 27 – October 3, 2020. Which means we have plenty of time to participate!

We recommend starting with the American Library Association’s Top 100 banned books of the last decade, the first 20 of which are viewable here.

“The list features many of the most popular and acclaimed titles and writers in publishing, from Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye,” says the website. “Many of the books on OIF’s top 100 list were targeted for LGBTQIA+ content.”

This annual event celebrates the freedom to read. Typically, bookstores and libraries offer special displays and programs highlighting banned books, so if a bookish facility is open near you, we recommend starting there!

Virtual events include “Share Your Shelfie,” happening all week; banned books trivia questions posted daily; and presentations including a conversation with Jami Cassady, daughter of beat writer Neal Cassady; Grammy Award-winning musicians and free expression heroes Portugal. The Man!; and a conversation about “Black People in Comics” with Valentine De Landro (Bitch Planet, X-Factor), Johnnie Christmas (Tartatus, Sheltered) and Chuck Brown (Bitter Root).

For more about events around Banned Books Week, click here.

What banned book have you read lately?

WSOC Registrants Can Win “Treasure Chest” in NCWN Drawings

By Ed Southern, Executive Director, NCWN

Here be buried treasure!

We here at the North Carolina Writers’ Network want you to register for our Writingest State Online Conference. We want to share literary excellence and professional know-how with you. We want to clear out the clutter built up in our home offices.

Starting October 1, we’re going to do all three at the same time.

Since its founding, the Network has subscribed to a wide array of literary magazines and journals. We continue to do so today, mostly—thanks to NCWN trustee Paul Jones’ invention of the internet—to support our fellow members of our literary community.

Back in the Before Times, we’d let our conferencegoers help themselves to the back issues of these magazines. This year, though, our back issues are backing up. I have a Leaning Tower of Lit Mags in one corner of my office.

So we’re going to give them away, a few at a time. Everyone registered for the Writingest State Online Conference by October 1 will be entered into a drawing to win a “Treasure Chest” of literary journals, a mystery box of mixed magazines.

More drawings will be held in the following weeks, culminating in a final drawing during WSOC’s Online Happy Hour on Tuesday, November 10.

The earlier you register for the WSOC, the more chances you have to win copies of Poets & Writers, Writers Digest, the North Carolina Literary Review, Southern Cultures, and many more.

The Network’s Writingest State Online Conference will be a five-day festival for writers, November 10-14 at an internet connection near you. The WSOC will feature classes and conversations on the craft and business of writing, as well as a keynote address by North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, a Pre-Conference Tailgate and a Prompt Party to get creative juices flowing, online Open Mic readings and Happy Hour virtual gatherings, and an Agents & Editors panel discussion.

Register for the WSOC today, and see if one of our treasure chests shows up at your door.

NC Author on Crook’s Corner Short List

North Carolina author Sion Dayson’s debut novel As a River is on the Crook’s Corner Book Prize shortlist.

The $5,000 prize, inspired by the prestigious book awards given by famous Parisian literary cafés, is awarded by the Crook’s Corner Book Prize Foundation and is co-sponsored by the iconic Southern restaurant, Crook’s Corner, in Chapel Hill.

Debut novels set in the South or by authors with Southern bonafides are eligible.

This year’s shortlist:

As a River by Sion Dayson (Jaded Ibis Press)
Written in spare and lyrical prose and set in Georgia, As a River moves back and forth across decades, evoking the mysterious play of memory as it touches upon shame and redemption, despair, and connection. At its heart, it’s a novel about our struggles to understand each other, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. Sion Dayson grew up in North Carolina and earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared in Electric Literature, Utne Reader, and more.

 

 

Confessions of an Innocent Man by David R. Dow (Dutton)
A man wrongfully convicted of murder will stop at nothing to deliver justice to those who stole everything from him. This suspenseful novel, set in Texas, is a fierce howl of rage that questions the true meaning of justice. David R. Dow is the Cullen Professor at the University of Houston Law Center and the Rorschach Visiting Professor of History at Rice University. Working with students in his death penalty clinic, Dow has represented more than one hundred death-row inmates during their state and federal appeals. He is also the founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network.

 

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore (Harper Collins)
A brutal rape in the Texas oil country of the mid-1970s reverberates through the lives of five women, whose different perspectives reveal the many faces of pain, resilience, and comfort. Deeply rooted in the implacable Texas landscape, the gripping narrative finds surprising pockets of empathy engendered by anger, fear, and evil. Author Elizabeth Wetmore is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in Epoch, Kenyon Review, Colorado Review, Baltimore Review, Crab Orchard Review, Iowa Review, and other literary journals.

 

 

“With bookstore readings canceled and all book launch activities impacted, no one has suffered more than debut novelists, who always have a tough time gaining recognition, even in the best of circumstances,” says Foundation president Anna Hayes. “We are therefore especially glad this year to shine the spotlight on these exciting new authors.”

This year’s final judge is Monique Truong, who spent part of her early years in Boiling Springs. Past winners include authors with NC ties including Wiley Cash, Kim Church, and Devi S. Laskar.

For more information about the prize, click here.

Randall Kenan on National Book Award Longlist

North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame inductee Randall Kenan’s final short story collection, If I Had Two Wings, has been longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction.

Randall died unexpectedly last month.

Returning to the fictional territory of Tims Creek, North Carolina in which two of his previous works also take place, the short story collection If I Had Two Wings by Randall Kenan explores appetites of all kinds, as well as characters yearning for both metaphorical and literal flight.

Two other books longlisted for this year’s award are set in the American South.

Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is a “multi-generational family saga in which the characters contemplate the consequences of their lineage.” Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, published by West Virginia University Press, draws readers into the “multifaceted lives of Black women across several generations as they engage in self-discovery and seduction.”

For the complete longlist for fiction, click here.

Randall Kenan was the author of a novel, A Visitation of Spirits; two works of nonfiction, Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century and The Fire This Time; and two collection of stories, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead and If I Had Two Wings. He edited and wrote the introduction for The Cross of Redemption: The Uncollected Writings of James Baldwin. Among his awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Mrs. Giles Whiting Award, the North Carolina Award, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Rome Prize. Kenan was a 2018 inductee into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. He was a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill until his death.

Publishers submitted a total of 388 books for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The judges for Fiction are Roxane Gay (Chair), Cristina Henríquez, Laird Hunt, Rebecca Makkai, and Keaton Patterson. Judge’s decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors and deliberations are strictly confidential. Winners in all categories will be announced live at the virtual National Book Awards Ceremony on November 18.

One shies away from expressing a rooting interest in an award “competition” such as this, but perhaps we’ll be forgiven if we admit we’re pulling for Randall, more than a little bit.

Join Us at NCPS Meeting on Saturday!

Every September, we look forward to spending a Saturday at The Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities in Southern Pines, when the North Carolina Poetry Society hosts their annual fall meeting.

This year, for reasons that will be obvious to most any reader, NCPS will hold their annual event online. Although the venue has changed, we’ll still be there—and we’re still looking forward to it!

The day kicks off with readings by winners of the Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition, including Dannye Romine Powell, who won this year’s contest with her poem “Argument.” Each year, a representative from NCWN introduces the prize and the readers, and this year our Executive Director, Ed Southern, will be on-hand to perform the honors.

The morning continues with readings by the winners and finalists of the Brockman-Campbell Book Award, including Patricia Hooper for her collection, Wild Persistence. Right before lunch, attendees are invited to participate in, and cheer on, an Open Mic.

Following a lunch break, Jason Gray, author of Radiation King, winner of the Idaho Prize for Poetry, and Photographing Eden, winner of the 2008 Hollis Summers Prize, will lead an interactive sonnet mini-workshop.

For more information, including Zoom log-in links, click here.

See you “there!”

[Editor’s note: the YouTube clip above was filmed at the 2012 NCPS September meeting. NC Literary Hall of Fame inductee Anthony S. Abbott recites four poems! Worth the watch….]

Taking a (Fleeting) Moment to Recognize “Literarians”

For literarians like these, it’s all smiles © Gabriel Swinney

In the book world, authors get most of the attention; agents get to emanate glamour and mystery; and booksellers and librarians carry impenetrable auras of impeccable taste.

So, it’s nice to see an award that honors “literarians,” individuals who somehow work to expand the audience for books and reading—largely behind the scenes and usually unrecognized. Mostly, this includes publishers, the yeomans of the book world who schlep heavy boxes of product to and from literary events; pour over and then make presentable words written by others; and later advocate for those same words, once they’re published, against a cold, uncaring world. Sometimes, it’s nice to see the literarians honored too!

Carolyn Reidy, the late President and CEO of Simon & Schuster, is the recipient of the National Book Foundation’s 2020 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

In addition to her role as CEO and President, Reidy gave unreservedly of her time both mentoring those rising through the ranks, and more formally guiding industry and charitable organizations, serving for many years on the Boards of the Association of American Publishers and Literacy Partners as well as the National Book Foundation.

This year’s National Book Awards ceremony on November 18 will be entirely virtual.

Stephen Reidy [Carolyn’s husband-ed.], will accept the Award on her behalf along with the $10,000 prize, which Mr. Reidy will donate to Carolyn Reidy’s favorite charity, Worldreader, a non-profit that believes readers build a better world. Worldreader combines 21st-century technology, culturally relevant digital books, and supportive programming to improve learning outcomes, workforce readiness, and gender equity in vulnerable communities around the world. Since 2010, Worldreader has reached 15 million children and young adults across the Global South.

Now, like we said, it’s nice that there’s an award that honors the literary movers and shakers who move and shake behind the scenes. But if you’re entertaining thoughts of grandeur, feeling like wow, maybe you too could win a national award for your literary citizenship, take note: nowhere on the website for the National Book Foundation does it list past winners of the Literarian Award, even though this is its 15th year in existence! Not, at least, that this blogger could find. (If you find such a list, let us know!) So even if you win, the glory is ephemeral, at best.

Alas, literary advocates are more like stage managers in the movies, honored with their own Academy Awards ceremony the night before the actual Oscars that everyone watches. I guess we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing, (mostly) for the love of it!

Bookmarks’ Silent Auction

“I should have gone that extra dollar…” © Nicole Stockburger

Something in a person loves a silent auction. A silent auction awakens the American Picker in all of us. Who doesn’t love browsing discounted items, appraising, shrewdly scanning for the best deal? And there’s the competitive component as well, as we outbid the person who outbid us and then wait for their inevitable re-bid, wondering who will blink first. (Not to mention the illicit thrill of doing it all anonymously.) A silent auction lets you dream a little, just like a lottery ticket.

And when the silent auction benefits a literary organization like Bookmarks, all the better!

Bookmarks, based in Winston-Salem, is hosting a silent auction and raffle through September 26. A Challenge matching grant of $15,000 has been made by The Lovett Foundation and Adrienne Amos Livengood, so every dollar donated will be matched up to $15K. There are over 70 items to be auctioned, and there is no fee to register.

For more details, click here.

You can bid on an exciting array of items, including luxury vacations, gift baskets, and one heckuva deal on a one-year membership to the North Carolina Writers’ Network!

Silent auction items include opportunities donated by authors and illustrators including: Megan Bryant, Charlie Lovett, Stacy McAnulty, Sarah McCoy, Kyle Webster, and Jacinta White, as well as Bookmarks, the North Carolina Writers’ Network, and Press 53.

The Bookmarks Classified “Date-with-a-Book” Raffle will allow participants to choose from over 20 titles for a hardcover new book by reading the ad. The classifieds will have an intriguing description of the mystery book for “date night,” and each raffle ticket purchased for $40 will allow the participant their chosen book and one entry for 20 prizes, ranging from gift cards and bottles of Raffaldini wine to the grand prize of a $500 gift card to Bookmarks. New classifieds will be added regularly over the two-week period with a grand reveal of all book titles on Friday, September 25.

In support of these fundraising efforts, Bookmarks is hosting many virtual events. For the full line-up, click here.

Get those bids in!

Doris Betts Fiction Prize Redux

NCLR 2020

The Doris Betts Fiction Prize has been on a brief, planned hiatus, but we are just one week away from opening submissions to the 2020 competition!

We paused the competition for a year to better align the contest with the production calendar of the North Carolina Liteerary Review, which facilitates the prize. First Place wins $250, and all ten finalists will be considered for publication. Also, the winner is usually among the Pushcart Prize nominations put forth by NCLR!

The contest is open to short stories under 6,000 words, writeen by a writer who is a legal resident of North Carolina or a member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. North Carolina Literary Review subscribers with North Carolina connections (lives or has lived in NC) are also eligible.

The prize honors bestselling author and beloved writing professor Doris Betts, a 2004 inductee of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. She 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. “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, Violet.

NCLR is produced at East Carolina University and published and distributed by the University of North Carolina Press. NCLR publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by and interviews with North Carolina writers and articles and essays about North Carolina writers and the rich literary history and culture of the Old North State. A cross between a scholarly journal and a literary magazine, NCLR has won numerous awards and citations. The print issue is published annually in the summer.

This year’s final judge is Josephine Humphreys, winner of the 1984 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for Dreams of Sleep.

The Doris Betts Fiction Prize began in 2007. Two authors have won the prize twice: Thomas Wolf of Chapel Hill won in 2007 and 2011; and Robert Wallace of Durham won in 2010 and 2017. Gregg Cusick of Durham has been a finalist three times.

The 2020 Doris Betts Fiction Prize opens September 15! Keep an eye on www.ncwriters.org for details.

The Priciest Story Ever Sold

Phillip Hainhofer’s 17th-century “friendship book”

A 17th-century “Friendship Book”—basically a kind of autograph book that was popular in European courts at that time—recently sold at auction for $3.1m. That feels like a lot of Benjamins for a 400 year-old scrapbook, even if, “The friendship book contains about 100 signatures from powerful rulers, each accompanied by colorful illustrations commissioned from court artists by royal dignitaries.”

But this Friendship Book is not the most expensive book to ever sell at auction.

If you can’t swing a stick in North Carolina without hitting a writer, it seems you can’t dive into the contemporary literary scene anymore without running into the behemoth of J.K. Rowling. Back in 2007, she hand-illustrated six copies of a book, Tales of Beedle the Bard, and gave away five copies as gifts. The sixth copy sold at auction for $4.89m. At least the proceeds went to Lumos, Rowling’s children’s charity.

But even that’s not the most expensive book ever sold.

William Shakespeare’s First Folio sold for $8.86m back in 2001. A rare 1477 first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales sold at auction for $11.69m in 2001.

Original or rare religious manuscripts, including The Guttenberg Bible, easily command tens of millions at auction.

The priciest book? Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex of Leicester, also known as the Codex Hammer, which sold for $52.8m in 1994. “Written between the years of 1506 and 1510, the 72-page notebook provides a rare glimpse inside da Vinci’s mind, complete with sketches, diagrams, and early iterations of ideas.”

The buyer? Bill Gates.

This blogger recalls viewing the original type-written scroll of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road as it toured the country some twenty years ago. It had just sold then for around $3.5m. Which seems now like a pretty good deal….

(All prices adjusted for inflation.)

Randall Kenan, 1963-2020

Randall Kenan, center, with fellow NC Literary Hall of Fame inductees Clyde Edgerton (left) and Jill McCorkle (right) © David Potorti

The board, staff, and members of the North Carolina Writers’ Network join millions around the state, nation, and world to mourn the passing of Randall Kenan. Randall died, apparently of natural causes, late last week at his home in Hillsborough.

We offer condolences to his family, close friends, and colleagues, while saving a few for ourselves. A literary commonplace holds that most authors are “better”—more moral and empathetic—in their books than in their lives. That assumption cracks against Randall Kenan, who, at least in my experience, was every bit as wise and warm and alive in person as in his writing.

NCWN trustee Terry Kennedy, the director of the UNCG MFA Writing Program and editor of The Greensboro Review, said Saturday, “He was such a light. He always made me feel better about the world every time I was around him.”

NCWN communications director Charles Fiore said he feels like we’ve been robbed of many more decades’ worth of books.

Randall Kenan received the North Carolina Award for Literature in 2005, and was a 2018 inductee into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. For the Network, he judged the most recent Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize; delivered the keynote address and taught the Fiction Master Class at the 2018 Fall Conference; and led workshops at the 2014 Squire Summer Writing Residency, the 2012 Spring Conference, the 2008 Fall Conference, and several other programs.

He was a Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his alma mater, as well as a Guggenheim Fellow, the winner of a host of major awards, and the Chancellor of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

He had many good reasons and opportunities to turn his back on his home state. Instead he wrapped his arms around it, around us, and lifted us. I despise having to write about him in the past tense.

Ed Southern
Executive Director
North Carolina Writers’ Network