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April Is the Cruelest Month, but It’s Still Poetry Month

Even though we can’t be together right now, we can still celebrate poetry together, wherever we are!

April is National Poetry Month, and usually, venues across North Carolina are filled with poets and lovers of poetry, celebrating the written word at events and readings all month long.

This year, National Poetry Month is necessarily going to look a little different, but there are still plenty of ways for us to take the time to appreciate the odists, bards, and rhapsodists both living and dead.

National Poetry Month was launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996 to remind the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters. They offer thirty ways to celebrate National Poetry Month online and at home.

Some of us are facing the daunting task of having students home all the time right now; The Poetry Foundation has an online resource page for learners of all levels.

You also can listen to poetry and poetry podcasts through The Poetry Foundation.

Orion Magazine offers five poems for National Poetry Month.

On select Thursdays in April, you can join Redheaded Stepchild and Malaika Albrecht for online poetry book launches:

  • 4/2: Eric Helms
  • 4/9: Christopher Davis
  • 4/16: Malaika Albrecht

Michael Gaspeny will launch his new poetry collection, The Tyranny of Questions, virtually through an event hosted by Scuppernong Books on April 15.

You can sign up to receive a poem a day in your e-mail inbox.

Feel like you’ve never been able to get into poetry, or are you feeling like maybe it’s just too much work right now? NPR offers five tips for “How to Get into Poetry.”

Circle April 30 on the calendar: that’s “Poem in Your Pocket Day” where everyone is encouraged to carry a poem around with them to share at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, street corners, and on social media using the hashtag #pocketpoem.

The North Carolina Poetry Society will celebrate North Carolina’s “literary godfather,” Sam Ragan, in an online incarnation of Sam Ragan Day on May 9. Ragan was twice nominated for the Pulitzer; a former NC Poet Laureate; and an inductee (and founder) of the NC Literary Hall of Fame. Full details in the most-recent e-newsletter from NCPS, which you can read for free here.

In short, there are many ways to celebrate this month both alone and with your community of poets. Enjoy.

Fellowship of Southern Writers Award Winners

Possibly lost in the mayhem of the last two weeks: The Fellowship of Southern Writers has announced their 2020 award winners.

North Carolina author Wiley Cash won the Hillsdale Award for Fiction. Cash is The New York Times bestselling author of three novels, including The Last Ballad, winner of the Southern Book Prize for Literary Fiction. He is the Writer-in-Residence at the University of North Carolina-Ashville.

Western North Carolina historian Dan T. Carter won the Woodward-Franklin Award for Historical Writing. His The Politics of Rage, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South won the Jules and Frances Landry Award. He is a former history professor at South Carolina University.

Margaret Wilkerson Sexton won the George Garrett New Writing Award. Her debut novel, A Kind of Freedom, was a 2017 National Book Award Nominee, a New York Times Notable Book of 2017, New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, and won the 2019 Crook’s Corner Book Prize based in Chapel Hill, NC.

For a full list of winners, click here.

Founded in 1987 by a group of writers who met in Chattanooga, the Fellowship of Southern Writers is a nonprofit organization which encourages the creation and development of literature in the South.

The FSW achieves its mission by commemorating outstanding literary achievement, encouraging young writers through awards, prizes, and fellowships, and by recognizing distinction in writing by election to membership.


2020 Kathryn Byer Prize in Poetry Winner

Kathryn Stripling Byer

This winter, Western Carolina University sponsored the first annual LitFest Creative Writing Competition, awarding prizes in the categories of fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry.

The winner of this year’s Kathryn Byer Prize in Poetry was Rae Hanes for “How to Make Spaghetti.”

“The poem is very clever,” said final judge Kevin Boyle, “a very nice mix of sensory details related to pasta and sexuality, and an interesting use of the narrative form to get at emotion—regret and sadness, but the sadness is countered, in the poem, with a lot of dynamic energy that comes through a strong voice.”

Libby Bradley was Runner-Up for “Old Caroleen.”

The Kathryn Byer Prize in Poetry honors longtime friend of the NC Writers’ Network, WCU professor, and NC Literary Hall of Fame inductee Kathryn Stripling Byer (1944-2017). Kay served as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate from 2005-2009. She published six collections of poetry, including Descent (LSU Press, 2012), which won the 2013 Southern Independent Booksellers Association Award for Poetry.

The winner of the Prize in Fiction was Foster Dalmas for “How Was Your Day Today?” Friend-of-the-Network Abigail DeWitt was the final judge.

The winner of the Prize in Literary Nonfiction was Chrishaun Baker for “Shaniya.” The final judge was Cassandra Kircher.

In the annual LitFest Creative Writing Competition, undergraduate students at WCU are invited to submit their original work to the annual LitFest Creative Writing Competition. Winners in each genre receive a cash prize, publication in Nomad, and a chance to read at the Spring Literary Festival [please note, this festival has been cancelled for 2020]. The competition is sponsored by the English department, Ron Rash, City Lights Bookstore, and Harry Alter Books.

The English Department at WCU offers undergraduate degrees and graduate degrees, including an MA in English and a Certificate in Technical and Professional Writing.

Relief Funding Now for the Arts

From our friends at ARTS North Carolina:

As the Executive Director of Arts NC, I know this is an overwhelming time, and that there is much to learn and much to do. I implore you to use the information provided and to please do all of the crucial actions listed below as soon as possible. It is important for this work and the future of the arts in North Carolina.

Yesterday, Governor Cooper requested that President Trump issue a major disaster declaration for the state of North Carolina. If approved, this will enable much need federal assistance to our state. Most specifically contract and self-employed workers and artists, as well as other not covered by state unemployment insurance, would now be eligible for benefits through the Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program. Unemployment issues for nonprofits and artists has been a primary focus of our work at Arts NC during this crisis and we will continue to advocate on this and other issues and provide updates to you as soon as possible.

COVID-19 Survey and Resources
Through the COVID-19 Action & Resource Center, Arts NC provides you the latest information about the impact of the pandemic, arts advocacy, and our primary issues of emergency funding and loans, as well as unemployment benefits. All of that is covered in detail for free in this recorded webinar: Arts Advocacy at Every Level During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Also, slides are available for quick reference and contain useful links to further resources and information. Please share this information with others and encourage your networks to sign up for the Arts NC Email List so they stay informed and engaged.

Congress is still negotiating a $2 TRILLION Stimulus Package that should provide $4 BILLION in financial relief to arts nonprofits through the National Endowment for the Arts. Early reports are that the amount under consideration is a paltry fraction of the requested relief our industry desperately needs. Take 2 minutes and contact your representatives in Congress right now and tell them we need relief for the arts. If you have already done so- please do it again. A special thanks to Rep. Alma Adams for her letter calling for this funding to Speaker Pelosi and the entire US House of Representatives.

Arts organizations MUST ACT NOW to be sure we can make the case for the relief funding we need. The COVID-19 Arts & Culture Financial Impact Survey is a vital tool to make our case at all levels of government. While our response rate to date is high, over half of respondents expected negative financial impact but did not report it yet. IT IS CRUCIAL THAT WE UPDATE THIS SURVEY OFTEN WITH ESTIMATED FINANCIAL IMPACT. Each time you take the survey, enter the cumulative estimate of your losses and expenses. Our current information make it appear our issues are not severe. We know that is not the case.

Also, nonprofit arts organization should take 30 seconds to sign on in support an amendment today that would significantly increase the cap on the above-the-line charitable deductions in the current stimulus package being negotiated in Congress right now.

There is a saying that when everything is an emergency, then nothing is. Unfortunately, this pandemic has made so much in our industry, and our nation, an emergency. Please make the time to act. It is crucial to beginning our recovery. The sooner we start, the sooner we will once again be able to invigorate our creative state with our passion and vision.

NCWN: Vocationally Quarantined Since 2008

The Communications Director has a physical co-worker for the first time!

Many of us are now working from home for the “forseeable future,” although, as our Executive Director reminded the Network staff earlier this week, while much of the world was adjusting to the new realities of social isolation and virtual workspaces, for the North Carolina Writers’ Network, which has been a virtual workplace since 2008, it was just another (manic) Monday.

So, as seasoned veterans of the vocationally quarantined life, the Network is here for you.

The challenge of working from home is that work and home suddenly take place in the same location. Whereas before you went somewhere to work and then came home to cook, relax, do you hobbies, spend time with family, exercise, whatever, now all of that is taking place in the same, suddenly impossibly tiny, space.

Some of these activities go together more easily than others. Although being on a conference call while you run on the treadmill is great eye-candy in the movies, the reality is a bit messier. If you can, set aside a place to work, and shut the door when you’re finished.

“Move around to various chairs throughout the house so you don’t leave butt grooves in one place,” suggests NCWN Membership Coordinator Deonna Kelli Sayed.

Personal grooming is more important than you might think while working from home. Put your pants on each day. Some of the staff here wear shoes, even at home; the one hippie does not.

The point is, though, get dressed. You don’t want to be answering client e-mails in your pjs. Get dressed for work, put the uniform on, so to speak, because this gives your mind a physical clue that now it’s time to work.

“In the beginning, I took a walk around the block each morning,” says Charles Fiore, communications director of NCWN. “It was my ‘commute.’ A short walk helped me mentally switch environments from home to work, even though I was coming back to the same space that I’d just left.”

(Charles then wandered off into a corner to contemplate the many ways this act of walking far just to end up right back where he started might be a metaphor for everything in his life…)

Many of us will be navigating the wonderful intricacies of webcams seriously for the first time. While you may not care if your parents, who live in Sheboygan, see inside your messy living room during your weekly Skype session, you may care if your co-workers can see through your office door into your kitchen where you’ve got three days’ worth of dirty dishes stacked up.

Here’s a great article on managing your home environment for the inevitably professional intrusiveness of your webcam.

And while we’re at it, here’s a sadly necessary list of do’s and don’ts for online workplace etiquette. (Mute your microphone!)

The Network has been focusing on technology this year, so here’s a terrific round-up of work-from-home apps, passed along to us by former NCWN Board President and current Trustee, Margaret Dardess.

There are more nuances that you’ll pick up as time goes by, but you don’t need to master this work-from-home thing quite yet.

Try to remember to take a shower each day. Eat a little extra chocolate. Take it one day at a time.

The Arts and COVID-19

By Wayne Martin, Executive Director, North Carolina Arts Council

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging all North Carolinians to alter their lifestyles and radically change habits in order to arrest the spread of the virus. The arts and culture sectors in our state are heavily impacted as more and more artists, organizations, events, venues, and destinations are facing postponements or cancellations and must address significant revenue shortfalls as audiences diminish.

As you know, Governor Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency this week. Guidelines in the declaration address the need for enhanced hygiene and cleaning protocols as well as social distancing and remote communications. Accordingly, the North Carolina Arts Council is postponing or cancelling all non-essential meetings, conferences, and gatherings across the state, including the Arts Council’s board of directors meeting that was scheduled for March 19. Because our agency’s offices are in Wake County, which has been impacted by the virus, Arts Council staff are also cancelling all non-essential travel. We expect these changes to remain in place for a number of weeks.

Emergency guidelines advocated telework in order to minimize social contact and many of our staff are working from home. That said, we are making every effort to answer calls and correspondence promptly. In addition, we plan to hold grant panels in May as scheduled, though we may opt to conduct online meetings rather than gather panelists in person.

If you are a current grantee and your organization or funded project is adversely affected by the virus, please contact Arts Council staff so that we can discuss potential options that may allow you to continue to utilize the grant.

Our national service organization, Americans for the Arts, is distributing a survey to assess real and potential economic impacts to arts organizations. I urge you to participate so that the effect of the virus on North Carolina’s arts infrastructure can be documented.

Advocacy to include the arts in emergency relief funding that might be allocated at the federal or state levels is a high priority. I am in close contact with Arts North Carolina and know that both of our organizations will share more information about recovery efforts in the coming weeks and months.

I also invite you to write me directly at if you have ideas for other ways that our arts network in North Carolina can address the needs of our colleagues or help our citizens and their communities.

Thank you for all the ways that you make North Carolina a better place. Together we will get through this challenging period.

**Editor’s note: This release was sent by the NCAC on Friday, March 13.**

Have You Always Wanted to Buy a Big 5 Publisher?

Simon & Schuster

Now’s your chance!

Simon & Schuster, one of the so-called “Big 5” New York publishing houses, has been put up for sale by its parent company, ViacomCBS.

According to an article in The New York Times:

ViacomCBS, announced (that), after a “strategic review,” the book publisher was no longer essential to its business and that it would seek a buyer…ViacomCBS, the newly combined business controlled by Shari Redstone, is betting its future on streaming and sports content. Owning a major book publisher does not fit into those plans.

This sell-off is in line with what Viacom announced shortly its merger with CBS last year, that it would “review its balance sheet” and “increase its presence in the streaming business.”

Simon & Schuster’s illustrious author list includes Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Steven King, Annie Proulx, and North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame inductee Thomas Wolfe.

Its list also includes “several perennial bestsellers” including Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

ViacomCBS is looking for $750 million in cost cuts after the December merger of Viacom and CBS, so figure an opening bid of half-a-billion dollars probably gets you in the door?

Or maybe not: The Los Angelees Times mentions that Bertelsmann announced that it would pay $675 million for the remaining 25 percent stake in Penguin Random House from the British firm Pearson, putting that valuation closer to 2.4 billion dollars.

Although Simon & Schuster was the smallest of The Big 5, that’s still quite a lot of jelly beans.

But hey, math isn’t most writers’ strongsuit. Maybe if you just ask nicely?

Linda-Marie Barrett Selected as Next SIBA Executive Director

From our friends at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance:

Linda-Marie Barrett

Linda-Marie Barrett

The Search Committee and Board of Directors of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance is pleased to announce the selection of Linda-Marie Barrett as SIBA’s incoming Executive Director. She will step into the position on June 16, 2020, when the current Executive Director, Wanda Jewell, retires.

“I’m leaving SIBA in better hands than my own, and that feels really good,” said Jewell. “I couldn’t be more delighted.”

Barrett brings a strong strategic vision to the organization at a time when the book industry is adapting to a rapidly evolving environment.

She writes, “During this very dynamic time in our industry, SIBA needs, more than ever, to offer programming that addresses current member needs. This means being in constant conversation with member bookstores to hear what’s happening ‘on the ground,’ looking outside our industry for opportunities, and considering new partnerships in communities, and regionally. My passion, and SIBA’s primary goal, is to give booksellers the tools they need to be successful and achieve their dreams. I’m so honored to be taking on this role and look forward to working with the SIBA Board and all our member bookstores to see what possibilities we can create together.”

Barrett was chosen in a unanimous decision after a robust, four-month-long search.

“The SIBA Executive Director Search Committee has completed an exhaustive pursuit,” said Search Committee member Shane Gottwals of Gottwals Books in Byron, Georgia. “While we talked to many qualified and motivated candidates, it was abundantly clear that Linda-Marie Barrett is just the right person to lead SIBA. She knows the industry and can relate to the needs of core members in an unparalleled way.”

Barrett brings to the position of Executive Director thirty years’ worth of experience in the industry as a bookseller in all levels from frontline bookseller to senior buyer, manager, and co-owner of Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville, North Carolina. While at Malaprop’s she played a leading role as a bookseller advocate and activist, and her op-ed piece responding to author boycotts of bookstores in the wake of North Carolina’s H.B.2 controversy was published in The New York Times.

Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books and the former President of the American Booksellers Association wrote in support of Barrett’s selection, “My admiration for Linda-Marie runs deep. She possesses a rare core of qualities that will guarantee success in this new position; she’s incredibly organized, creative, entrepreneurial, and passionate about independent bookselling, and independent bookselling in the South, to be specific.”

Barrett is a past Board member of SIBA and has worked extensively with the American Booksellers Association, serving on the Bookseller Advisory Council and as a presenter at Winter Institute. For the past three years she has been SIBA’s Assistant Executive Director, responsible for much of the day to day operations of the organization. As Assistant Executive Director, Barrett spearheaded the development of SIBA’s online educational programming which has resulted in over a dozen webinars on a wide range of topics including Inventory Activism, Time Management, Podcasting, Managing Expenses, and Launching a Book Festival.

“SIBA stands like a beacon in the world of regional trade associations because of Wanda Jewell’s thirty years of dedication,” noted Gottwals. “Our new executive director has a mighty legacy to follow, but Linda-Marie Barrett has the skills and experience required to keep us shining brightly for many years to come.”

For more information contact SIBA at

Coronavirus and Spring Conference

By NCWN Executive Director Ed Southern

Slush Pile Live!

Okay, who all washed their hands? © Stanley Dankoski

We intend to hold the 2020 Spring Conference as planned—as of right now.

We are keeping a close and careful eye on the latest developments, though, and recognize that we may very well have to cancel the conference in the interest of public health.

We recognize, too, that the situation—and our understanding of it—is evolving very rapidly. I am aware, as I write on Monday morning, that this statement could be obsolete by the time you read it.

Should we decide to cancel the Spring Conference, we will do so as early as seems responsible. We also will issue full refunds to all registrants and exhibitors.

In addition, we will waive our usual deadline and terms for refunds for any registrant who cancels due to ill health or particular vulnerability. In other words, if you or a loved one wakes up the morning of April 18 with the symptoms of a cold or flu, don’t come to the conference: We still will issue you a full refund.

We will rely on the honor of our members and registrants not to take advantage of this offer.

So if you have not yet registered for the Spring Conference because you’re afraid we will cancel or you will get sick, and you will lose your registration fees, go ahead and sign up. You’ll get your money back.

In the meantime, let’s all do what we can to lessen the severity of this outbreak:

  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, and for at least 20 seconds each time you do. Adult human beings shouldn’t have to be told this, but here we are.
  • A vital part of combatting the coronavirus is combatting misinformation. We are writers and care about language, so please make sure you are reading articles and alerts about COVID-19 with care and discernment, and only from reputable sources. We as writers should know better than to get our information from tweets and hearsay: The CDC provides excellent advice on preventing the spread of COVID-19, as well as a constantly updated summary of what we know now.
  • Part of what makes the coronavirus so frightening is that it’s new, and the medical community doesn’t know much about it. On the other hand, the medical community is learning more about it each day, so please make sure you’re updating your own knowledge of what the experts know now. What you read about COVID-19 a month, a week, or even a day ago—even if it came from a reputable, knowledgeable source—may have been disproven in the last half-hour. Have the courage to keep yourself updated and informed; much like the craft writing, you can’t ever assume you know all you need to know, and don’t need to learn more.

Pre-registration for the NCWN 2020 Spring Conference is open.

Join NCWN at Saga 2020 this Weekend

Everything we’re about to say is subject to change, so be sure to keep an eye on for the latest.

The North Carolina Writers’ Network is looking forward to exhibiting at this weekend’s Saga 2020 Conference, March 6-8, in Charlotte.

Vincent Vezza, NCWN’s Cabarrus-Rowan Regional Rep, will be on-site Saturday and Sunday.  (Learn more about Vincent and his books here.) Be sure to stop by our table and say hello!

What is Saga?

Saga is THE professional development conference for genre fiction writers on the East Coast. It’s two days of workshops, presentations, panels, and one-on-one critiques from award winners, best sellers, and professional writers, editors, agents, and publishers.

Imagine the best writing tracks from your favorite fandom con. Now take the professional development aspects of your favorite writing conference. Put those together, and you have Saga. It’s the writing conference for the people the MFA programs hate. It’s where you go to learn from the people with their boots on the ground and their hands on the keyboard.

Click here for tickets.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention that, to put it mildly, some folks have the yips about being out and about in public right now. John Hartness, author, publisher, and conference organizer, sent the following to all Saga registrants just this week:

With all the recent ews and developments concerning novel coronavirus COVID-19, I wanted to inform everyone of the precautions we are taking at SAGA to help keep all our attendees, faculty, staff, and volunteers safe.

First, we encourage everyone to follow the CDC guidelines on behavior and cleanliness, including washing hands with warm soapy water (a lot), limiting personal contact (fist bumps are better than handshakes), and taking general care of your health (hydrate, get plenty of rest, take your vitamins).

In addition to this, we will be providing hand sanitizer in all attendee conference bags, as well as faculty bags, and there will be hand sanitizer available in all panel rooms and in the Muggles Market Too areas.

We look forward to seeing everyone this weekend!

So, wash your hands folks, and have a great Con!