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Penelope Niven, RIP

Penelope Niven

Penelope Niven, the critically acclaimed biographer of Carl Sandburg and Thornton Wilder, has died. She was seventy-five.

“She was just a beautiful person inside and out,” said poet and biographer Emily Herring Wilson. “She was extraordinary. She was a great public speaker and teacher. I heard her speak many times, often at Salem College. She was funny, intelligent and generous. So many people have lost a close personal friend. Her family has lost a great family member. Her readers. … Her loss will just have a great impact in all those areas.”

Niven, who lived in Winston-Salem, wrote Carl Sandburg: A Biography, Steichen: A Biography, and, most recently, Thornton Wilder: A Life. She and James Earl Jones co-authored Voices and Silences, praised as a classic on acting, and she wrote a memoir, Swimming Lessons. Carl Sandburg: Adventures of a Poet, her biography for children, was awarded an International Reading Association Prize “for exceptionally distinguished literature for children,” one of six books honored among publications from ninety-nine countries.

She has been awarded two honorary doctorates, three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Thornton Wilder Visiting Fellowship at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, among other honors. She received the North Carolina Award in Literature, the highest honor the state bestows on an author. During the past twenty-three years she has lectured across the United States and in Switzerland, Canada, and Wales; has served as an editor for various publications; and has been a consultant for television films on Sandburg, Jones, and Steichen. She recently retired after twelve years as Writer-in-Residence at Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where an international writing prize was named in her honor, along with the creative writing portfolio prize given each year to a Salem student.

Penelope Niven is the mother of award-winning author Jennifer Niven.

“I want my epitaph to testify that I have been a loving mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend,” Niven said on her website. “And I have taught, written, and lived with joy.”

NCWN Sponsors Poetry in Plain Sight

The North Carolina Writers’ Network is a proud sponsor of September’s Poetry in Plain Sight Program.

Poetry in Plain Sight brings poetry to downtown Winston-Salem. Four poems are chosen each month and displayed on posters in sixteen shop windows throughout Winston-Salem’s Arts District and downtown. The goal is to bring poetry to a wider audience and to support North Carolina poets. This Winston-Salem Writers’ program is a collaborative effort with Press 53, with a monthly event at Barnhill’s Books. It is endorsed by the Downtown Arts District Association of Winston-Salem. Monthly sponsorships from local businesses and corporations support printing costs.

For September, the featured poems are “Pharr Yarns” by Molly Rice; “Sourwood” by Bill Griffin; “Owls on Runnymede” by Becky Gould Gibson; and “Song” by Adrian Rice.

The Winston-Salem Writers will host their monthly event, “4 Poem & a Party,” to celebrate these works on Saturday, August 30, at 1:00 pm, at Barnhill’s Books, 811 Burke St. in Winston-Salem.

For more information on Poetry in Plain Sight, including how to submit your poem for consideration, click here.

Poetry in Plain Sight

Let’s Thank Our State Government Reps

NC Arts CouncilFor the first time in what feels like a long time, the state budget signed earlier this month by the North Carolina governor sustained funding to the North Carolina Arts Council at current levels.

ARTS North Carolina is asking constituents to write a hard copy letter to your Senator and Representative at their Raleigh office:

Why a hard copy letter instead of an email? The intent is for your people to actually receive the note of thanks which is unlikely if it arrives as an email. First class, personalized communication has a far greater impact.

They suggest including the following ideas:

  • Visionary leaders make hard choices, and in choosing to preserve our state arts agency and its programs, they have chosen to help keep North Carolina the creative state. The direct and indirect results of their support of the arts will be felt in our economy, our schools, and in the lives of our citizens.
  • Share a specific program planned for next year that would not have occurred if state funding had been cut. Use data AND anecdote to illustrate your claim that public funding matters.
  • In supporting the arts in North Carolina, they have helped create a public/private partnership that benefits cities and towns across the state. Give a specific example of how public funding serves as a catalyst for private giving and earned revenue.
  • Give examples of jobs or contracts that will be possible because of the NCAC funding

In concluding, reinforce the theme of “pride in place” by positioning your relationship with the Legislator as a partnership because you share a passion for making your community a better place to live and work.

You can find the mailing address of your Senator and Legislator at www.ncleg.net. If you are unsure of the specific person, first visit Who Represents Me at http://www.ncleg.net/representation/WhoRepresentsMe.aspx.

Announcing a New NC Publisher: Orison Books

Orison Books“Orison” is a thirteenth century word meaning “prayer.” At Orison Books, a new Asheville-based press focusing on the life of the spirit, the staff believes “the best spiritual art and literature call us to meditate and contemplate, rather than asking us to adopt any ideology or set of propositions.”

Determined that their list will ask questions and seek the truth—as opposed to presenting the truth as something already understood—Orison Books plans to publish “spiritually-engaged poetry, fiction, and nonfiction books of exceptional literary merit.” They also aim to contribute to the cultural conversations around spirituality and literature by hosting classes, readings, symposia, and other public events.

“A significant gap exists between literary publishers and strictly religious publishers,” says Luke Hankins, Senior Editor of Asheville Poetry Review and the founder of Orison Books. “Literary publishers occasionally publish books of spiritual depth, but few, if any, set out to do so as a mission and raison d’être. Religious publishers, on the other hand, tend to publish work that offers little appeal to readers outside a particular ideological group.”

Orison Books hopes to bridge this gap. In order to do so, they are hoping to raise $40,000 through Indiegogo, an online crowdfunding platform.

Orison Books will release its first title on March 15, 2015: I Scrape the Window of Nothingness: New & Selected Poems by Stella Vinitchi Radulescu.

For more information, click here.

Spiral Bound Documentary Highlights Arts Education

On Tuesday, September 9, Charlotte’s Arts & Science Council will present the world premiere of Spiral Bound, a “documentary about the unlikely union of eight creative high school students from a youth development program and a group of liberal arts college students over the course of one summer.”

Together, these education activists are seeking social justice not only in the public school system but also in the higher education arena. On this journey, both groups learn the power of the arts in giving a voice to those who need it the most, including themselves. From the inner city streets of Charlotte and the quaint college town of Davidson to the bustling steps of the US Capitol, these young people stand together to change the face of education through their courageous narratives.

The movie will screen in the McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square. Tickets are $8 – $10. For more information, click here.

Per the Arts & Science Council, the documentary asks why our education system fails to reach some of the most at-risk children in our education system and offers arts education as a solution for helping those children find success personally and in the classroom. Arts education provides opportunities for students to find their passion and strive for improvement and growth. It helps develop creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. And it is disappearing from our public schools.

A second premiere event will take place Thursday, September 11. at the Davidson College Duke Family Performance Hall in Davidson.

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.”