I first saw the White Cross School in 1994, just a couple of weeks after I graduated from college. I had gone to Carrboro to visit a friend who was interning with a documentary filmmaker, who at that time was sharing the School with an organization I’d never heard of, the North Carolina Writers’ Network.
Being an aspiring writer myself, I made a mental note to check out this Network.
Little did I know.
On January 31, 2008, I found myself leaning unsteadily from a stepladder, power drill in hand, taking down the NCWN signs from the brick walls at White Cross. What little furniture, equipment, and supplies were left inside would be gone by the next day, along with the Network’s almost two-decade-long residence in the historic schoolhouse on Highway 54.
Of all the work I faced when I became the Network’s executive director – fundraising, budgeting, programming – the only job that daunted me was summed up in a question I kept asking myself: “What in the #$%^& are we going to do with all this stuff?”
I wasn’t concerned about chairs and desks and dividers. I was worried about the Network’s history. Our wing of the White Cross School was filled with past newsletters, conference programs, author biographies, board minutes, budgets, and books: too many to keep in my small house, too valuable to be disposed of.
I can’t remember if I called Marsha Warren first or if she called me; either way, she volunteered to come by White Cross School and give me a tour of exactly what was to be found in all those boxes, filing cabinets, and bookshelves.
Marsha was the Network’s executive director from 1987 to 1996. When she started, the Network had one box of files and three boxes of books, all of which fit inside her coat closet. Everything that had been saved in the White Cross School since then represented what Marsha calls “23 years of services, competitions, conferences, support . . . the amazing story of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.”
She gave me my tour, and then she volunteered more. She rolled up her sleeves (literally; I saw her do it) and began sorting through the written – and tape recorded and photographed – record of what the Network had done through the years. Then she volunteered to call together a team of other volunteers, people who have long cherished and served the Network: Linda Hobson, Coyla Berry, and Debra Kaufman. They spent a couple of days sifting, organizing, boxing, and labeling.
Then Marsha contacted Tim West with the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library. West agreed with us that the Network’s materials needed a permanent home where they would be kept safe and available to anyone interested in seeing them. On February 1, 2008, 39 boxes from the North Carolina Writers’ Network entered the archives of the Southern Historical Collection.
“The NCWN has made a significant contribution over the years to the literary life of our state,” West said. “Its history is therefore eminently worth documenting, and the SHC is honored to preserve these records and make them accessible.
“Once they are processed – likely within the next six months – they will be available in the SHC search room, on the fourth floor of Wilson, to anyone with a valid picture ID from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturdays. Copies of items for personal use may be made with digital cameras supplied by the SHC or brought by researchers. A finding aid will be produced by staff and made available on the SHC website.”