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Be the Next Piedmont Laureate

Carrie Knowles

Carrie Knowles

The Piedmont Laureate program is accepting applications from speculative fiction authors for 2015. Authors must be residents of Wake, Durham, or Orange counties. The deadline to apply is September 19 at 4:00 pm.

The Piedmont Laureate program, co-sponsored by the City of Raleigh Arts Commission, Durham Arts Council, Orange County Arts Commission, and United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County, has as its primary goal “to promote awareness and heighten appreciation for excellence in the literary arts in the Piedmont region.” The program is dedicated to building a literary bridge for residents to come together and celebrate the art of writing, enriching the lives of all our citizens.

The Piedmont Laureate will be appointed for one year and will offer the following activities in Wake, Durham, and Orange counties:

  • Present readings at designated public sites (libraries, arts centers, schools, universities, and other community gathering places);
  • Encourage creative writing for all age groups (by offering workshops or other types of outreach);
  • Promote literature at select public events;
  • Bring attention to literature in less traditional settings; and
  • Propose original activities to expand appreciation of the literary arts

Past Piedmont Laureates include:

For more information, and to apply, visit: www.piedmontlaureate.com.

RIP William Franklin McIlwain, Jr.

William Franklin McIlwain Jr.,

William Franklin McIlwain, Jr.

William Franklin McIlwain, Jr., former Newsday editor and member of the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame, died last week in Winston-Salem. He was eighty-eight.

McIlwain was born in 1925 in a farmhouse near Lancaster, South Carolina. His family relocated to Wilmington when he was in the sixth grade, and he later said he always considered himself a Wilmington resident.

At seventeen, he landed a job as a sportswriter at the Wilmington Star-News. He served in the Marine Corps after high school and earned a BA in English from Wake Forest College in Winston-Salem in 1949.

He later joined the Richmond Times-Dispatch and, with only a month of copy editing experience, he was hired as Newsday’s chief copy editor in 1954. McIlwain served as day news editor, city editor, assistant managing editor, managing editor, and editor-in-chief at Newsday, leaving in 1970 and returning in 1982 to lead the newspaper’s expansion into New York. In the interim, he was a writer-in-residence at Wake Forest University and authored a bestselling memoir, A Farewell to Alcohol.

Tony Insolia, former Newsday editor, said McIlwain recognized talent. “If McIlwain told me that somebody was a .350 hitter . . . I would believe it. If they could meet McIlwain’s test, they could work for me.”

McIlwain retired to Wrightsville Beach in 1990, where he “acted as a mentor and coach to a number of young reporters.” He moved to Winston-Salem in 2010 to be closer to family.

“McIlwain understands the art of writing, the rush of reporting and the need for constant encouragement,” wrote reporter Veronica Gonzalez in a 2010 piece. She also praised “his gift for uplifting people when they are down by saying a few kind words, sharing stories about his life or simply listening.”

New Writing Group for Military in Fayetteville

Jerry Bradley

Jerry Bradley

Folks in and around the Cumberland County region—including Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Robeson, and Sampson Counties—take note: there’s a new writing group starting up on the first and third Saturday of the month.

“Writing Can Help,” founded by Veterans Writing Collective member Jerry Bradley, hopes to “inspire artistic expression and creation and to encourage release, hope, help and healing through writing.”

The group includes but is not limited to military men and women, retirees, veterans, government civilians, battlefield contractors, first responders and their family members who have experienced or who are experiencing events resulting in mental (such as PTSD and TBI) or physical trauma and disabilities. The goal of this group is to encourage a peer environment in which participants can develop their artistic writing skills through instruction, review and feedback offered in an honest, positive and constructive (not destructive) manner. This will be done through workshops, discussions groups, critique groups, special projects and events. Remember, disabled does not mean unable.

“Writing Can Help” meets in Room 202 of the All American Veteran Center/Bookstore building on the Fayetteville Technical Community College campus. The first meeting will be held Saturday, August 23 at 10:30 am—please come prepared to write!

Questions: Contact Jerry Bradley, facilitator, at 910-574-5019 or writingcanhelp@gmail.com.

D.G. Martin Interviews Jaki Shelton Green

Poet Jaki Shelton Green, of Mebane, will be inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame on Sunday, October 12. She sat down with D.G. Martin recently on WCHL 97.9 FM to talk about her work with female prisoners, how she writes “always with fear,” and her hope that her poetry can be understood by everyone, from the marginalized to the privileged.

Listen to the full interview here.

Jaki Shelton Green received the North Carolina Award for Poetry in 2003. She has published four books of poetry through Carolina Wren Press: Dead on Arrival (1977, and reprinted in 1983 and 1996), Conjure Blues (1996), singing a tree into dance (2003), and Breath of the Song: New and Selected Poems (2005). Her new chapbook, Feeding the Light, is out this month from Jacar Press. Her works have been choreographed and performed by many renowned dance companies. She is a lifelong human services advocate; she has worked with Legal Services, and on issues such as domestic violence. She is an advocate for women, children and the mentally ill. Additionally, she has used poetry and art as a healing and empowerment tool for disenfranchised populations such as the homeless, the newly literate, and incarcerated women. She was the 2009 Piedmont Laureate.

The North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame 2014 Induction Ceremony will be held Sunday, October 12, at 2:00 pm, at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities in Southern Pines. The ceremony is free and open to the public. For more information, click here.

So What Does a Poet Laureate, You Know, Actually Do?

Joseph Bathanti

Joseph Bathanti

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have an official poet laureate; the national Poet Laureate position, established in 1937, carries with it a $35,000 annual stipend.

But what does a poet laureate actually do?

The Indy Week examined this question in the aftermath of Governor Pat McCrory’s unilateral selection of Valerie Macon as North Carolina’s eighth poet laureate last month, which caused a bit of a firestorm in literary circles and made national news. Ms. Macon resigned less than a week into her post.

“It’s crucial that people understand what we do,” says Kathryn Stripling Byer, who was NC Poet Laureate from 2005 to 2009. “The laureateship is not a ceremonial role. It was quite a hands-on job and it was very much a public job.”

Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina’s previous poet laureate, traveled to “45 of the state’s 100 counties, he delivered nine keynote speeches and commencement addresses, judged ten poetry competitions, gave fourteen radio and television interviews plus many more to newspapers and magazines, taught workshops and read at hundreds of public and charter schools, universities, libraries, domestic violence prevention organizations, prisons, retirement communities and veterans’ groups.”

To read the full article, which includes Joseph Bathanti’s poem “The Bull,” click here.

Please note, on Wednesday, August 6, Bathanti offered the following correction:

“I cannot at all take credit for founding the Veterans Writing Collective in Fayetteville. I was merely at the initial meeting, with a number of key players, in Fayetteville at Methodist University. Out of that meeting, the Collective was later formed and all the credit goes to poet and Professor Robin Greene, Paul Stroebel and a number of other hard-working folks at Methodist and in Fayetteville who have brilliantly sustained and nurtured it.”

Banu Valladares to Head SonEdna

Banu Valladares

Banu Valladares

Banu Valladares, former Literature Director for the North Carolina Arts Council, has taken the job of Executive Director with SonEdna, a literary arts organization based in Charleston, Mississippi.

Prior to joining the NCAC in 2007, Valladares served at the Durham Arts Council as the director of arts in education and community partnerships. She taught writing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and for seven years, Valladares was a teaching artist, conducting local and international long-term residencies in public schools integrating creative writing into the curriculum. She is a member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network and has published a bilingual book of poetry called Gypsy Child (CPCC Press, 2005).

SonEdna was founded in 2006 by Myrna Colley-Lee to celebrate and support the literary arts and writers of all backgrounds. The organization presents readings by established and popular authors and provides space for writers to create new work. It also partners with schools and other organizations throughout the Delta to provide workshops that enrich the lives of the region’s youth. SonEdna believes that people empowered through the literary arts discern, decide, and design with greater authority, clarity, understanding, and compassion.

“Banu will be an excellent addition to our community and state,” said Colley-Lee, “having been deeply-involved with arts-based community development at the state and local levels in North Carolina.”

Charleston, MS, is located in the Mississippi Delta and has a long history as a nurturing ground for writers. For the full press release, click here.

Going to be near Charleston, MS, on Thursday, July 31? Why not drop by the “Meet the Director” reception and congratulate Banu on her new post?

As far as the North Carolina Writers’ Network is concerned, we’re going to miss Banu—a lot. But we wish her all the best. Godspeed and good luck!

The A. R. Ammons Literary Scholarship

Southeastern Community College in Whiteville, North Carolina, has established the A. R. Ammons Literary Scholarship.

A.R. Ammons, an inductee of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, was born in Columbus County in 1926. He has been described as a major American poet in the tradition of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. Generally opting for free forms, his poetry focused on man’s relationship to nature, the problems of identity, permanence and change, and the processes of nature.

A two-time winner of the National Book Award, plus the Bollingen Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, Ammons published nearly thirty volumes of poetry. He taught poetry at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, from 1964 until he retired as the Goldwin Smith Professor Emeritus of Poetry in 1998.

SCC’s Williamson Library houses the A.R. Ammons Collection, and Columbus County sponsors the A.R. Ammons Poetry Competition each year.

SCC is still seeking gifts to establish a $30,000 endowment. To contribute, please send your contribution to:

Sue Hawks
Executive Dean of Institutional Advancement
P.O. Box 151
Whiteville, NC 28472

Indicate that your gift is for the Ammons Scholarship, which is tax-deductible as allowed by law.

Questions about the endowment can be directed to Ms. Hawks at 910-642-7141, ext. 320.

Ed Southern to Visit Western NC

Valley IBy Ed Southern, Executive Director, North Carolina Writers’ Network

I will be in the western part of our state next week and will hold two public meetings for Network members:

  • 2 P.M., Thursday, July 24, at City Lights Bookstore, 3 East Jackson St., Sylva
  • 6 P.M., Thursday, July 24, at Kelsey’s Restaurant, 840 Spartanburg Highway, Hendersonville (for dinner, please RSVP to Henderson County Regional Rep Pat Vestal at patricia.vestal@gmail.com)

All Network members are welcome, but I especially hope to see members from our NetWest counties (Clay, Cherokee, Graham, Macon, Swain, Jackson, Transylvania, Haywood, and Henderson, as well as adjacent counties in SC, GA, and TN).

I look forward to seeing y’all, and answering your questions about the Network, NetWest, and . . . you know, anything else that’s been on writers’ minds lately.

Valerie Macon Resigns as Poet Laureate

Valerie Macon has resigned her appointment as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate, effective immediately.

Governor Pat McCrory appointed Ms. Macon less than one week ago. In her resignation letter, Ms. Macon said she felt the negative attention was distracting from the “Office of Poet Laureate.” She also said:

I would like to encourage everyone to read and write poetry. They do not need a list of prestigious publishing credits or a collection of accolades from impressive organizations—just the joy of words and appreciate of self-expression.

We couldn’t agree more, and wish Ms. Macon the best in all her writing endeavors and in her admirable community service.

No word yet on when a new Poet Laureate will be appointed, or whether the governor’s office will seek input from the North Carolina Arts Council, as it has in the past.

Valerie Macon is North Carolina’s New Poet Laureate

By Ed Southern, Executive Director, North Carolina Writers’ Network

Valerie Macon

The North Carolina Writers’ Network stands for writing as “everybody’s art.” In our mission statement, we affirm that “writing is necessary both for self-expression and a healthy community, that well-written words can connect people across time and distance, and that the deeply satisfying experiences of writing and reading should be available to everyone.” We are egalitarian, democratic with a lower-case “d,” and anti-elitist.

We stand for excellence, for preserving and promoting the best of North Carolina writing, for continuing and strengthening and deepening North Carolina’s remarkable literary tradition. We believe that fine writers can come from Duke and Oxford like Reynolds Price, or from the Marines and carnival sideshows like Tim McLaurin. We believe fine writing can come from anyone, any place, any press or publisher, including yourself.

Some writers publish more work than others, sell more copies and make more money than others, win more awards, get more glowing reviews, tell more gripping stories, construct more elegant sentences, use more evocative words. Some writers are better than others.

That does not cheapen or negate the work, the effort, or the passion any writer puts into their words; he or she still is just as much a writer as any other. Whatever our level of skill or experience, education or fame, we are all writers as long as we’re writing, all lovers of the written word and what it can do, all fighting the good fight for the caring and thoughtful use of the language.

I do not know Valerie Macon or her work, but I know people who do, and they describe her as a kind and caring person who is well-liked and active in Fuquay-Varina, where she has done great work with and for the homeless population.

I do not know why Governor McCrory’s office selected Valerie to be North Carolina’s new poet laureate. I do not even know how the governor’s office went about selecting her out of all the poets now writing in North Carolina.

I do know the governor’s office chose to make the appointment without the usual (and public) nomination, selection, and recommendation process conducted by the North Carolina Arts Council.

I do know that bypassing this process—bypassing not so much the North Carolina Arts Council, as the people of the state—devalues the state’s literary community and tradition, the poet laureate position, and—through no fault of her own—Valerie’s tenure in the position.

Dannye Romine Powell, for the Charlotte Observer, and David Menconi, for the Raleigh News & Observer, have covered well the announcement and the reactions to it, and I recommend their articles and blog posts to everyone (full disclosure: Dannye and David are members of the Network). Even they, though, have not gotten answers to the two biggest questions remaining: why did the governor’s office ignore the traditional and offered help of the state Arts Council, and how did they come to select Valerie Macon?

Jaki Shelton Green

Jaki Shelton Green

Whatever the intrinsic quality of Valerie’s poetry, she does not have a body of work comparable in size or recognition to those of our past laureates. Those laureates, too, all were teachers of long service and high renown, and were well-known to poets and readers across the state and beyond.

The “selection criteria” that, until recently, were posted on the Arts Council’s website (Menconi posted them on the “Under the Dome” blog) called for “literary excellence,” “influence on other writers,” and “statewide, national or international reputation.” On Friday, Valerie’s website—which also has come down recently—said she has two books of poetry, both self-published through Old Mountain Press. Both books, the site said, were nominees for the Pushcart Prize, but Pushcart Prizes are not given to book-length works, and anyone can nominate any work for a Pushcart.

Really, though, Valerie’s resume is less important than the way she became laureate. The North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame this fall will induct four outstanding poets (Betty Adcock, Ronald Bayes, Jaki Shelton Green, and Shelby Stephenson), but if any of them had been appointed poet laureate in such a sudden and apparently arbitrary way, we would be right to object.

The traditional nomination process allowed any and all North Carolinians to suggest poets they thought deserved to be our state’s “ambassador” of poetry and the written word. Those poets were told they had been nominated, and, if they accepted the nomination, were asked to provide work samples, lists of publications and awards, references and recommendations, a statement of what they would hope to accomplish as laureate: in other words, to create a public record of the reasons they should be the poet laureate.

The Arts Council then brought together North Carolinians—poets, professors, editors, journalists, even (once, at least) an executive director—representing as much of the state’s population as possible to discuss and decide which of these nominees the council should recommend to the governor, who—no offense to poets or poetry—presumably has more pressing matters at hand, and probably, sadly, is not as up-to-date on contemporary poetry as he or she should be.

Choosing to ignore this process means choosing to ignore the people of the state. It does not mean that Valerie will not perform her laureate duties well. It does mean that Valerie enters her laureateship in a difficult and unfair position, deprived of the consensus and support that the customary selection process would have built.

Joseph Bathanti

Joseph Bathanti

I hope Valerie will be an outstanding poet laureate. I hope she will use the laureate’s position and platform to increase and expand her work with the homeless, as she has said she plans. I hope she will be as effective in those efforts as Joseph Bathanti has been in his work with returning veterans. I hope the Network will be able to help her, as our past laureates have pledged to, in that or any other productive mission she decides to undertake.

I hope that the governor’s office will remember this experience, will see the value of the laureate position, and will accept the help of the North Carolina Arts Council when selecting the next.

I hope that all this will show others—and remind us—how much our poet laureate matters, how much poetry matters, how much the written word matters, to so many: to those fighting the good fight, with whatever weapons they have, and to those who don’t realize the fight’s being fought.