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Three NCWN Members Long-Listed for National Book Awards

Three members of the North Carolina Writers’ Network have been long-listed for the 2021 National Book Awards.

Threa Almontaser has been nominated in Poetry for her collection, The Wild Fox of Yemen (Graywolf Press).

Jason Mott has been nominated in Fiction for his new novel, Hell of a Book (Dutton).

NC Literary Hall of Fame inductee Carole Boston Weatherford has been nominated in Young People’s Literature for Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre (Carolrhoda/Lerner), illustrated by Floyd Cooper.

The National Book Foundation will name five finalists in each of the five categories—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and young people’s literature—on October 5. The winner will be announced during the awards ceremony on November 17, which will once again be held in-person at Cipriani Wall Street in New York.

For the complete long-list, click here.

Threa Almontaser is a N.C.-based Yemeni American writer from New York. She holds a M.F.A. in English Creative Writing and a TESOL Certification from N.C. State. Her first poetry collection, The Wild Fox of Yemen, arrived in April from Graywolf Press. She is the 2020 recipient of the Walt Whitman Award, given by the Academy of American Poets. Almontaser teaches English to immigrants and refugees in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was featured in a long interview in the Spring 2021 NCWN newsletter, The Writers’ Network News.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jason Mott lives in southeastern North Carolina. He has a BFA in Fiction and an MFA in Poetry, both from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. His poetry and fiction has appeared in various literary journals. He is the author of two poetry collections and multiple novels, including The New York Times and USA Today bestselling The Returned, which was adapted for television under the title. “Resurrection” for the ABC Network. His newest novel, Hell Of A Book came out in June. He has taught at past NCWN conferences and contributed to the Fall 2021 NCWN newsletter, The Writers’ Network News.

New York Times bestselling author Carole Boston Weatherford recently released Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe and R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Baltimore-born and -raised, she composed her first poem in first grade and dictated the verse to her mother on the ride home from school. Her father, a high school printing teacher, printed some of her early poems on index cards. Since her literary debut with Juneteenth Jamboreein 1995, Weatherford’s books have received three Caldecott Honors, two NAACP Image Awards, an SCBWI Golden Kite Award, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and many other honors. Weatherford has received the Ragan-Rubin Award from the North Carolina English Teachers Association and the North Carolina Award for Literature. She is a professor at Fayetteville State University.

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are American literary prizes administered by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization. A pantheon of writers such as William Faulkner, Marianne Moore, Ralph Ellison, John Cheever, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Robert Lowell, Walker Percy, John Updike, Katherine Anne Porter, Norman Mailer, Lillian Hellman, Elizabeth Bishop, Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, Adrienne Rich, Thomas Pynchon, Alice Walker, E. Annie Proulx, Jesmyn Ward, and Ta-Nehisi Coates have all won National Book Awards. Although other categories have been recognized in the past, the Awards currently honor the best Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature, published each year.

For more about the National Book Foundation, click here.

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Bland Simpson Re-Releases Debut Album for Charity

Bland Simpson was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 2020. A former past chair of the Department of English & Comparative Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill and the former director of its Creative Writing Program, Bland’s books include The Great Dismal: A Carolinian’s Swamp Memoir (UNC Press, 1990), and Little Rivers and Waterway Tales: A Carolinian’s Eastern Streams (UNC Press, 2015). He’s also a Grammy-Award winning musician and Tony-nominated Broadway songwriter.

Scouted and signed by Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, to 4th Floor Music, Bland released his first studio album, Simpson, with Columbia Records in 1971. The album has just been digitally re-released in celebration of its 50th anniversary.

“As we approached the 50th anniversary, I thought about how much work had gone into it,” Simpson says. “I didn’t want it to be completely forgotten because it’s got some songs I really like. And if anybody wants it, they can get it by sending some money to the food bank. Right now any food bank needs any amount of money they can get.”

Proceeds from the sale of the re-released album, Simpson, will be donated to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

Simpson’s musical, written with Jim Wann, Diamond Studs:  The Life of Jesse James–directed by John Haber and choreographed by Tony Award-winning artist Patricia Birch–ran 10 sold-out performances at Chapel Hill’s Ranch House (October, 1974), was picked up by the New York non-profit Chelsea Theatre Center, and opened at the Chelsea Westside Theatre on West 43rd Street Off-Broadway in mid-January 1975 to universal acclaim and an eight-month run.

In December, 1986, Bland Simpson joined The Red Clay Ramblers as the band’s piano player and began years of extensive touring (North America, France, Denmark, the Middle East and North Africa) and further theatrical work.  As a Red Clay Rambler, he contributed to the film scores of Sam Shepard’s Far North (1988) and Silent Tongue.  He also collaborated on the Ramblers’ show Fool Moon, a three-time Broadway hit (1993, 1995, 1998-99) that won the Ramblers a share in the show’s Special Tony Award (Gershwin Theatre, June 1999).

Buy the album here.

For an in-depth exploration of what Simpson means, five decades later, read Nic Johnson’s post for the Orange County Arts Commission, here.

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The John Hope Franklin Scholars Program Is Thriving

John Hope Franklin was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1998, one year after celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of his literary landmark, From Slavery to Freedom. A longtime professor of history at Duke University, among other academic institutions, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1995.

In 2009, the Duke University Office of Durham and Community Affairs—working with Durham Public Schools—established the John Hope Franklin Scholars Program, where, in honor of the program’s namesake, middle and high school students become “historian adventurers.” The program begins each summer with a one-week intensive and continues with field trips and monthly meetings throughout the school year.

For example, in 2014, students wrote the book Running for Hope about the life of John Hope Franklin. In 2020, UNC University Libraries welcomed a group of young scholars eager to learn more about the history of medicine, with a special focus on medical history in North Carolina.

The program is run by David Stein, Senior Educational and PepsiCo Program Coordinator.

Although From Slavery to Freedom is his best-known work, Franklin was a prolific author. In 1990, a collection of essays covering a teaching and writing career of fifty years was published under the title Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988. In 1993, he published The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-First Century. His most recent book, My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin, is an autobiography of his father that he edited with his son, John Whittington Franklin.

For more information about the John Hope Franklin Scholars program, click here. For more information about John Hope Franklin, click here.

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The Boy in the Suitcase: A Collaborative Story

On Thursday, August 12, the NC Writers’ Network hosted our first-ever Online Game Night, a progressive, virtual night of games with a literary bend. During one portion, participants responded to a visual prompt and wrote a collaborative story. Participants took turns contributing lines.

Here is the prompt image, courtesy of moderator Gretchen M. Thomas:

 

And here is the story. Enjoy!

***

The invisible man took his son for a walk. The boy cringed inside the briefcase; Daddy had done this before, and it never turned out well. Once they passed the Tabaco shop, there was only one other possibility. And his stomach wrenched at the thought.

Dad should have known better; the boy got motion sickness every time he went out in the suitcase. The boy, Douglas peeked through the opening to see the car speeding by too fast. He wished Sally was here. She always knew what to do. But he hadn’t seen Sally since his father had walked off with her in a suitcase, seven years ago today.

The car waited for him in the “No Parking” spot. The boy saw the curious dog, the one who always barked and sniffed, and yelled for his dad to pick up the suitcase higher. But the car in the No Parking zone honked, drowning the boy out.

At that point, a black and white patrol car drove up; the officer who exited the car said, “We got a call from someone about a car in the nopartking zone. What’sgoing on here, folks?”

“Nothing for you to see, officer.”

“Oh, dear,” Douglas thought. “Mama’s in the back seat of the car and she’s the only one who can see Daddy. Is invisibility genetic?”

“Rowrrr…” said the dog, sniffing the suitcase.

“Shhh!!” whispered Douglas.

Then Douglas heard a voice. The hair on his neck prickled. “Douglas? What are you doing in that suitcase. You know better than that!”

Suddenly, the car started, startling the officer. The dog jumped in the window, the man jumped in the passenger seat with the boy in his lap, and they farted off.

The mother came from the hotel said, “Thank God, they’re gone. Good riddance.”

Douglas learned something important from living through this story: NEVER fart when you’re inside a suitcase!

***

By Charles Fiore, Jane Gatewood, Jill Jennings, Kathy Julian, Robin Kirk, Ro Mason, A.J. Mayhew, Ruth Moose, Ami Offenbacher, Deonna Kelli Sayed, Gretchen M. Thomas, and Herb Wakeford

 

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A Teacher in a Time of Pandemic

By Gretchen Thomas

Our pandemic blog series continues this week with an interview with Jeremy B. Jones, a professor at Western Carolina University and author of Bearwallow: A Personal History of a Mountain Homeland (Blair, 2014), which won the 2014 Appalachian Book of the Year in nonfiction and was awarded gold in the 2015 Independent Publisher Book (IPPY) Awards in memoir. Gretchen Thomas (GT) caught up with Jeremy (JJ) recently over e-mail.

Jeremy B. Jones

GT: How long have you worked for Western Carolina University and what is your official title?
JJ: Associate Professor, seven years.

GT: What was your schooling like to get to your position today?
JJ: I earned my MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa.

GT: Western Carolina University moved classes online in March of 2020. If you were teaching at that time, please explain how you dealt with the sudden move to teaching in an online setting.
JJ:We survived! My courses last spring moved to a self-paced, online model when the pandemic hit: students completed their work and watched short video lectures from me as they were able. I realized pretty quickly everyone—including me—needed a little grace to try to manage all of the stress and uncertainty. In the fall, I was on scholarly development leave, in theory to finish a book, so I wasn’t teaching. (In practice, I spent most of my time homeschooling my kids and trying to find funding sources for the Spring Literary Festival.) In spring 2021, I taught online only, and by that point everyone had become a pro at navigating the Zoom classroom. I missed seeing students in real life—having them drop by my office to fill me in on their writing and lives—but the classes moved smoothly enough. I learned, in fact, that a writing workshop works surprisingly well online.

GT: How has the pandemic changed the way you teach, if at all?
JJ: I haven’t taught face-to-face since the pandemic began, so I don’t know yet how the experience of teaching online might change my in-person teaching. One lesson that I’m always learning as a teacher is that I never know what’s happening in any one student’s life. So many students are juggling responsibilities—working multiple jobs, caring for children or parents or siblings, navigating mental health issues—and the pandemic made this truth all the more evident. I have always tried to give students the benefit of the doubt, but I believe in this approach even more after the last year.

GT: As the director of WCU’s Literary Festival, how was the event changed to fit COVID-19 restrictions? What struggles had you faced with trying to host events during the pandemic?
JJ: It wasn’t an easy festival to pull of this year, but we did—and had fun doing it. Of course most of the festival took place virtually this year. Rather than simply replicate an in-person festival online, we tried to create something new. In the livestream events, we asked writers to play silly literary games with surprise guests, we asked students—students like the very talented interviewer Gretchen Thomas!—to interview writers during the livestream. We asked, for example, the graphic writer Kristen Radtke to play literary Pictionary with the writer Rachel Yoder. West Virginia novelist Mesha Maren played a West Virginia trivia game with Jessie van Eerden. In short, we tried to make the events dynamic and engaging. We wanted to highlight each writer’s distinctive voice, so we individualized each event instead of asking the writers to read to a screen for 30 minutes. (These videos are all archived and accessible, here.)

The other struggle this year was finding funding. Many of the grants we rely on weren’t awarded amid the pandemic, so I spent a lot of time searching for funding sources to keep the festival alive. And it is alive.

GT: As an educator, what was your biggest challenge teaching in an online setting?
JJ: Keeping my kids off camera. Well, and also, figuring out how to meet students where they are. In a classroom, I have many built-in assessments throughout a class period. I’m putting students in groups or throwing out writing prompts. Students don’t often know these informal assessments are there, but I’m checking in throughout the period to make sure they’re getting the material. It was more difficult to do this online, and I couldn’t naturally chat with students after class or during group work, so I worried about students keeping up.

GT: Western Carolina University has announced the return of in-person classes, do you believe that being in-person will aid students’ education? Why or why not?
JJ: I think for most students it will. One takeaway from this past year, however, is that some students perform better outside of the pressure of the traditional classroom, so I hope those students will continue to find formats that aid their learning. For most students, though, being in a classroom again will make learning easier and more engaging. There’s something about physically entering a classroom space that alerts the brain that something different is happening. And, not to get to woo-woo, but there’s also an energy there, and I think if an instructor is using (or fueling) it well, learning in a classroom can be catalytic.

GT: After surviving a hectic year and a half of teaching online, what is one piece of advice that you would give yourself to survive teaching during a pandemic?
JJ: I know I said it once already, but it’s important enough to say again: everyone—including yourself—needs some grace.

GT: What advice would you give to those interested in teaching at the collegiate level?
JJ: Find opportunities to teach wherever you can: writing workshops at the local library, leading book clubs at a youth center, coaching little league, etc. Don’t limit yourself to a traditional classroom. You can learn about teaching and about learning in any environment, and the more you’re thinking about how to best motivate and educate the people around you, the more you’re growing as a teacher.

GT: This fall, we are asking literary professionals of all kinds to give us one good piece of advice. What is the best advice you ever heard, or what advice would you give your younger self?
JJ: Donald Murray wrote that he wished he’d known this when he was 21 (as a new writer): “all acceptances are as irrational as all rejections.” I carry this advice with me a lot because the literary world is one of near-constant rejection. But these rejections aren’t personal, and they’re often more about that publication’s context (what they’ve recently published, how much space they have in an issue, what that editor ate for breakfast) than they are about the writer’s work. BUT! It’s equally important to remember that the acceptances are as subjective as those rejections. As artists, it’s tempting to equate our worth—both personal and artistic—with acceptance or rejection. But that’s a fool’s errand. Instead, we have to do the work that compels us, and keep moving.

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A Publisher in a Time of Pandemic

By Gretchen Thomas

Emily Louise Smith

The North Carolina Writers’ Network has been conducting interviews with people working in different spaces within the literary world to understand how the pandemic has affected our community. Today, we speeak with Emily Louise Smith, publisher of sister imprints Lookout Books and Ecotone magazine, both housed within the Department of Creative Writing at UNC-Wilmington.

Gretchen Thomas (GT) caught up with Emily (ELS) recently over email.

GT: Describe your role at Lookout Books.

ELS: I co-founded Lookout in 2009 and currently serve as its publisher, meaning that I’m ultimately responsible the imprint’s daily operations—from planning sales and distribution strategies to negotiating contracts, from executing marketing and publicity campaigns to writing and managing grants, from art directing and designing books to collaborating closely with Lookout’s editor, KaToya Ellis Fleming, on acquisitions and editorial notes toward bringing out complex, engaging titles that both fit and expand Lookout’s mission. Lookout is also a teaching press; in addition to introductory and special-topics courses in publishing, I teach the graduate practicum that supports our work.

GT: What was your schooling like to get to the position you have today? Did you have a focus in publishing?

ELS: After graduating from Davidson College with a BA in English and concentration in gender studies, I worked in advertising and development for several years before returning to grad school to study poetry. As part of my acceptance into UNCW’s MFA program, I was offered a teaching assistantship in the very Publishing Laboratory I now direct, where I worked for twenty hours a week as an editor, designer, copywriter, marketer, book binder, and grant writer; I wore pretty much every hat needed to keep our fledgling in-house imprint humming. I also supported founder Stanley Colbert and then director Barbara Brannon in teaching their publishing courses, helping them with research, lesson planning, grading, and hosting students for open hours in the Pub Lab. The entrepreneurial spirit of the lab in those days—housed in an actual former science lab, complete with a fume hood!—was one of such innovation and creativity. It offered me not only a three-year crash course in publishing but a design playground. Among other projects, I helped publish our department text book, Show & Tell: Writers on Writing, as well as curated and designed the inaugural issues of Ecotone under the leadership of founding editor David Gessner and student editors Kimi Faxon Hemingway and Heather Wilson. Upon graduation, I accepted a fellowship at the Hub City Writers Project in South Carolina, where again I had the opportunity to edit and design, learn and experiment, this time under the incredible mentorship of Hub City Press founder Betsy Teter. So my publishing education was—as it is for so many of us who work in small presses and magazines—a glorious, extended apprenticeship.

GT: Why did you co-found Lookout Books?

ELS: Lookout’s original and enduring mission is twofold: 1) to support the work of debut authors and others whose voices have been misrepresented, erased, or overlooked in publishing, and, with creativity and care, to bring their stories to broad readership. And 2) to offer students in UNCW’s writing programs engaging, hands-on opportunities to learn the art and craft of publishing by working on our critically acclaimed titles.

GT: How has the pandemic disrupted your daily work routine, if at all?

ELS: In almost every way. In March of 2020, my immediate challenge was to reimagine my hands-on publishing practicum within a new virtual environment. Needless to say: the learning curve was steep to transition what was previously a weekly three-hour collaborative meeting and work session into meaningful stand-alone projects that students could do independently at home—but with ongoing virtual support from me and other staff members. I refined my approach again and again over two additional semesters of virtual learning.

Meanwhile, throughout the pandemic, the book industry had to devise new strategies for getting books into the hands of readers. COVID caused delays across the supply chain—from book manufacturing to warehousing to shipping. Reviewers and other members of the media weren’t going into offices to intercept physical galleys. Booksellers closed their doors and became shipping centers while also hosting virtual events. Bookshop.org sales soared. National and regional bookseller trade shows, sales meetings, and conferences all moved online, which meant relearning, in many ways, how to promote and talk about books. I had to rethink pitching in virtual spaces, for example, and find new methods for connecting authors with readers and booksellers via online readings and discussions.

GT: Have you seen an increased or decreased number of submissions since the pandemic began?

ELS: For Lookout at least, queries are fairly consistent with what we received before the pandemic. We continue to acquire a single book a year, though, and it has to be a perfect fit for both us and for the author, so we always seem to have a little reading backlog. Also, the pandemic delayed our search for a new lead editor, which in turn led to a temporary pause in our annual publication schedule. Our last book, Cameron Dezen Hammon’s This Is My Body, came out just before the pandemic, in fall 2019. So we’re very excited to have KaToya Ellis Fleming on board and our next book scheduled for release in April 2022.

GT: What has been one major problem you have faced while working during the pandemic, and how did you fix it?

ELS: More than a year before the pandemic, I agreed to direct the creative writing department’s 2020 Writers’ Week under the assumption that it would be a celebration of Lookout’s tenth anniversary. We’d bring back Lookout authors and alumni, and host robust publishing classes and panels; by summer 2020, it was pretty clear that the entire roster of events, nearly twenty separate craft talks, readings, and panels, would need to be held virtually. So with support from the accompanying seminar class, we reinvented Writers’ Week. We researched best practices in hosting online events, participated in Zoom workshops, read articles and books, using Priya Parker’s wonderful The Art of Gathering as our guide, redefined our purpose, and ultimately reimagined the week as “Writing to Transform,” an online festival that better met our community’s needs during the pandemic. We added morning writing sessions, updated our website with titles and descriptions, created a daily newsletter, held run-throughs to orient visiting speakers, thought anew about audience accessibility and safety, crafted participant guidelines, and worked closely with captioners. A symposium that traditionally welcomes about three hundred students and members of the Wilmington community swelled to include more than six hundred guests from around the world.

Meanwhile, Lookout ramped up our social media campaigns and developed a newsletter. We celebrated our tenth anniversary by debuting Lookout Labs, a series of virtual conversations between authors and publishing professionals, designed to demystify the process and prepare participants for their first publication, as well as to support the next generation in learning the art and craft of publishing. It wasn’t what we’d planned, but we harnessed audience familiarity with Zoom and had such a great time talking with two of Lookout’s debut authors, Clare Beams and Cameron Dezen Hammon, about their path to publication, the challenges and magic of bringing their books into the world, as well as to catching up with alumni who now lead Orion magazine, Hub City Press, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. We’ve since produced the first two episodes of the series, which are free to watch on our website.

GT: Will anything about how Lookout Books has gone about publishing in the last year change as we reemerge into “normalcy?”

ELS: In her proposal for Lookout’s next book, Bigger Than Bravery, Black Writers on the Year That Changed the World, editor Valerie Boyd wrote that the collection gives contributors space to “explore the small moments of comfort and joy, of challenge and compromise, that we’ve found, together and alone, during this Great Pause—which, as a result of the national reckoning on race, also has become the Great Call.” Our abiding commitment at Lookout, and in publishing this title as our first after a two-year hiatus and KaToya’s first as editor, is to heed that call as a both a book publisher and as a teaching press, to support authors and books that reflect the diversity of our country and, as KaToya put it, “to be a lighthouse for writers of color, and LGBTQ+ writers, and writers from myriad other groups who have been erased, unheard, or otherwise denied access to publishing.” By making those books centerpieces in our publishing classrooms, we better prepare and empower the next generation of publishers, editors, designers, publicists, and community leaders.

Publishing Bigger Than Bravery well also means reevaluating our post-pandemic approach to reviewers, media, bookstagrammers, and booksellers. Many outlets requested e-galleys throughout the pandemic, and while I can appreciate the convenience and cost savings, not to mention the environmental reprieve, I’ve always loved working with authors, colleagues, and students to tailor our media list and develop physical galley kits that tell the story of a book, contextualize, and bring out the conversation around it. So I’m eager to collaborate with Valerie, KaToya, and our students, when they return this fall, to imagine a digital equivalent of Lookout’s galley kit, or a hybrid approach that allows us to continue doing our best matchmaking and connecting titles with their readers.

GT: What advice would you give to others who are interested in working in publishing?

ELS: While recording our Lookout Labs in April, my brilliant friend and former Pub Lab co-conspirator, Sumanth Prabkaher, who now edits Orion magazine, said something that has stayed with me. “The best thing that I did and continue to do for myself,” he said when asked his advice for aspiring publishers, “is to just surround myself with intelligent people at every possible opportunity. There’s nothing better than being the dumbest person in the room.”

Maybe more than ever, within our increasingly professionalized writing program, my students seem afraid to show up as anything short of proficient, certain, fully formed. But I think we do our best thinking and learning when we’re open, listening, and receiving. My students flourish when I afford them space to make mistakes, and when they grant themselves permission to learn from those mistakes. I remember hanging on Betsy Teter’s every word the year I worked for her at Hub City, not only when she was actively mentoring me, but when she was on the phone, negotiating with a vendor or potential community partner, when someone dropped by to see her new office space, and she set about casually, almost innocuously, illuminating for that person the organization and its mission, until the next thing I knew, he was making a donation to Hub City or buying an armload of books.

Sumanth’s advice also came as a good reminder to me, now in my eighteenth year of publishing, to continue surrounding myself with teachers—colleagues, editors, authors, students—from whom I am always learning.

GT: This fall, we’re asking literary professionals of all kinds to give us one good piece of advice. What advice would you give your younger self?

ELS: This is personal—and it’s something I struggle with still—but if I could go back and say one thing to my younger self, that version of me so anxious to gain a toehold in the male-dominated fields of academia and publishing, it would be that I was already enough. Long before I knew as much as I do now, before I’d published a catalog of award-winning books or had a list of articles and panels to list on my CV. I would say to her, You are smart and capable already. You deserve to be here. Don’t you dare shrink yourself to make others comfortable. I’ll never get back those long hours that turned into years hustling to prove my value to the department and university, years that I sought self-worth in others. If I could rest a hand on her shoulder now, I’d tell her to take a day off, to go for a run, to write her own book, even if it never sees the light of day. I’d whisper to her exactly what I say to my students: Trust your instincts and your courage. Bet on yourself first.

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Call to Action for the NC General Assembly

From our friends at Arts NC:

The NC Senate’s budget proposal, released on June 22nd, not only offered an inadequate funding increase for NC Arts Council grants (Year One Increase: $0, Year Two: $500k), but the Senate also allocated almost all $5.5 billion of the State’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) Fiscal Recovery Fund and included ABSOLUTELY NO RECOVERY FUNDING FOR THE ARTS.

The arts industry has never struggled more, and even though venues are now reopening, studies show it will take the arts three to five years to fully recover. That is why the Arts need a minimum $20 MILLION allocation to nonprofit arts organizations in all 100 counties through the NC Arts Council to fortify existing grant programs and to provide reopening/recovery funds to RESTART THE ARTS from the State’s General Fund and/or ARP Fiscal Recovery Funds to ensure that our creative economy can recover and thrive.

NOW IS THE TIME TO:

  • Ask your NC House Rep to support $20 million in grants for the arts.
  • Ask Governor Cooper to work for his proposed $20 million in grants for the arts.
  • Tell you NC Senator the current proposal fell short and to support $20 million for the arts.

THIS MEANS YOU- THIS MEANS NOW- TAKE 2 MINUTES- SERIOUSLY!

Take 2 minutes to email your NC House Representative, NC Senator, and Governor Cooper to tell them that the ARTS DESPERATELY NEED $20M IN RECOVERY FUNDS. You can add your personal story, information, and comments to the email, but you need to write today. The NC Senate has put both the State Budget and ARP Fiscal Recovery Funds in play at the same time. WE NEED TO ACT NOW, OR THE ARTS WILL GET NOTHING!

TAKE ACTION NOW!

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New Digs for Letters Bookshop

A new storefront location for Letters Bookshop in Durham

It’s been an exciting couple of months for booksellers around North Carolina as many stores have expanded their in-store browsing hours and others, like The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, opened their doors for the first time since March of 2020.

On the other side of the Bull City, Letters Bookshop reopened on July 6 in an entirely new space downtown. The new shop at 116 W. Main St. offers “More space, more used books, more new books, expanded area for kids…and beer, wine, drip coffee, and events coming soon.”

Letters will continue to offer order pickup, local delivery, and mail-order services.

Founded by Land Arnold in December, 2013, this indie bookstore specializes in carefully selected used books, tables featuring new paperbacks and hardcovers, as well as a children’s book section stocked with mostly new books.

Letters sells gift cards and audiobooks through Libro.fm as well. And just as a heads up, they are closed Sunday and Monday (for now).

Visit them on the web at www.lettersbookshop.com and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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NCWN Members On Crook’s Corner Longlist

The Crook’s Corner Book Prize just announced its longlist for 2022 and two NCWN members are on it: Leah Hampton, whose debut collection F*ckface and other Stories (Henry Holt and Co., 2020) was named a Best Book of 2020 by Slate, Electric Literature, and PopMatters, and Kelly Mustian, whose debut novel The Girls in the Stilt House (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2021) received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.

Another longlisted author, Kasey Thornton, whose debut collection Lord the One You Love Is Sick (IG Publishing, 2020), received her MFA in Fiction from NC State and UNCG and lives in Durham.

The mission of the Crook’s Corner Book Prize, now in its ninth year, is to highlight emerging fiction writers, who typically face some of the toughest obstacles in publishing. Although eligible books must be set in the South, authors may live anywhere, and all genres of fiction except for Young Adult are eligible.

This year’s Crook’s Corner Book Prize judge is Ron Rash. Ron Rash is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times bestseller Serena and Above the Waterfall, in addition to four prizewinning novels, four collections of poems, and six collections of stories.

Inspired by the literary prizes awarded by famous Parisian cafés such as the Deux Magots and the Café de Flore, the Crook’s Corner Book Prize honors the iconic Crook’s Corner, which for 40 years was a culinary, literary, and artistic beacon in Chapel Hill. Sadly, Crook’s Corner closed in 2021. However, the Crook’s Corner Book Prize will continue its annual award, a fitting homage to the unforgettable restaurant.

The Shortlist will be announced in September.

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An Author in a Time of Pandemic

By Gretchen Thomas

Heather Bell Adams

After a terribly hectic year, the North Carolina Writers’ Network has decided to conduct interviews with various members from different aspects of the literary world to understand how the pandemic has affected our community. In today’s interview, we talk with Raleigh author Heather Bell Adams, whose most recent novel, The Good Luck Stone, was published in June, 2020 during the pandemic. Gretchen Thomas (GT) caught up with Heather (HBA) recently over email.

GT: How long have you been writing?
HBA: I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember, beginning with my childhood in Western North Carolina. Later on, when I was starting out as a lawyer and my son was young, I put writing aside for a bit. Once my son got older and my legal career was more established, I picked it back up again.

GT: Did you go to school specifically for writing? How did your writing career take shape?
HBA: I haven’t (yet) gone to school specifically for writing. In undergrad at Duke, I majored in English and loved that my homework consisted of reading books and writing about them. Although I didn’t get into the creative writing class for which I applied, I was a guest columnist for The Chronicle and occasionally wrote short stories. Shortly after graduating from Duke Law, Our State magazine (at the time, The State) published one of my essays—my first non-school publication.

GT: Were you working on new projects/multiple projects when the pandemic became known?
HBA: When the pandemic began, Haywire Books was gearing up for the July publication of my second novel, The Good Luck Stone, and I was experimenting with different stories, trying to decide what form my third novel would take.

GT: Did COVID-19 push back any of your projects?
HBA: Thanks to the dedication of my publisher, Haywire Books, the publication date of The Good Luck Stone didn’t change.

I took a little while to settle upon the idea for my third novel, in part due to anxiety about COVID-19 and the many questions swirling during this challenging time.

GT: Your most recent novel, The Good Luck Stone, was published in July of 2020, early in the pandemic. What was the biggest struggle you faced, publishing a new book at that time?
HBA: Well, we definitely (and with good reason) didn’t have any in-person events. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, though, at how much fun online events can be. Page 158 Books was kind enough to host a virtual launch party for The Good Luck Stone. Since it was online, some of the attendees included one of my childhood teachers, who lives in Massachusetts, and my college roommate, who lives in California. Although I’ve missed getting to visit bookstores and book clubs in person, it turns out that online events can feel remarkably intimate.

GT: Were there any positives that came from publishing your novel when you did?
HBA: I like how so many of us have broadened our perspectives with regard to online events. Even as a non-expert when it comes to technology, I’m now entirely comfortable—even eager—to attend them, both as an author and reader.

GT: Have you been able to participate in a book tour or other events?
HBA: In addition to the virtual launch, I’ve had the privilege of participating in online events with the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, North Carolina Writers’ Network, Quail Ridge Books, Page 158 Books, Bookmarks, the James River Writers’ Conference, and various book clubs. I’ve been really impressed with how organizations have pivoted to hosting online events.

GT: As restrictions continue to relax, do you plan on participating in more book events?
HBA: Yes, if people want to invite me, I’ll happily join them!

GT: Were you forced to change your writing schedule during the pandemic?
HBA: Although the pandemic changed my legal work from in-office to remote, it didn’t change my writing schedule all that much, except for canceling a writing retreat I’d been looking forward to. As critique partners, Pam Van Dyk [NCWN member and managing editor of Regal House Publishing – ed.] and I continued to exchange pages while we were stuck at home, which was immensely valuable.

GT: If your writing style has changed during the pandemic, how would you describe the difference?
HBA: The pandemic has made me more grateful for creative souls everywhere and for the outlet that writing offers. While this doesn’t necessarily signal a shift in my writing style, what it’s done is made me more intentional about supporting writers. In addition to continuing to purchase from independent bookstores, I’ve been seeking out more chapbooks and small press books that don’t get quite as much attention.

GT: Have you gained any new skills or tried new things during the pandemic in relation to your writing career? Ex: enhanced work ethic, dabbling in new genres, etc.
HBA: Unrelated to the pandemic, during 2020 I lost my aunt, grandmother, and, most unexpectedly, my father. To process my grief, I turned briefly to writing personal essays instead of fiction. Imagine my surprise when one of those essays, “Show Me,” won the Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition. Another, “Here, Settle Down Here,” is forthcoming from Still: The Journal. On a personal note, writing these essays helped me sort through my feelings when I wasn’t sure how to do that. Otherwise I’ve mostly charted the same course as before, focusing on book club and literary fiction. When it comes to short stories and novels, I’m most interested in exploring how characters’ lives might change, even in infinitesimal ways.

GT: What advice would you give yourself looking at the challenges you faces, publishing and continuing to write during the pandemic?
HBA: With this, as in life in general, it’s perhaps best if we give ourselves the grace to acknowledge when we’ve tried our best, no matter the ultimate outcome.

GT: Do you ever see yourself writing about your experience of the pandemic?
HBA: Honestly, writing about the pandemic doesn’t appeal to me at the moment. I guess never say never though.

GT: What advice do you have for those publishing now, still immersed in a pandemic, albeit one that seems to be improving?
HBA: First, I would say congratulations for your dedication, hard work, and resilience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The writing community is immensely supportive, and I feel confident that I speak for writers, booksellers, writers’ organizations, and readers in saying we are here for you.

 

Heather Bell Adams is the author of two novels, Maranatha Road (West Virginia University Press, 2017) and The Good Luck Stone (Haywire Books 2020). Maranatha Road won the gold medal for the Southeast region in the Independent Publisher Book Awards and was selected for Deep South Magazine’s Fall/Winter Reading List. The Good Luck Stone appeared on Summer Reading Lists for Deep South Magazine, Writer’s Bone, The Big Other and Buzz Feed and won Best Historical Novel post-1900 in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

Heather has won the Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Award, James Still Fiction Prize, and Carrie McCray Literary Award. Her short stories appear in The Thomas Wolfe ReviewAtticus ReviewPembroke MagazineBroad River ReviewThe Petigru ReviewPisgah Review, and elsewhere.

Originally from Hendersonville, NC, Heather lives in Raleigh with her husband and son. She works as a lawyer, focusing on financial services litigation.

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