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John Ehle, RIP

John Ehle, 1925-2018

John Ehle, author of seventeen books including the classic Land Breakers series, has died at the age of ninety-two.

Ehle was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1997. He received the North Carolina Award for Literature, the Thomas Wolfe Prize, and the Lillian Smith Award for Southern Fiction, and he is a five-time winner of the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction. He has also received the Mayflower Award, the Governor’s Award for Meritorious Service and the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities, and he holds honorary doctorates from UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Asheville, the North Carolina School of the Arts, and Berea College.

In addition to his many literary merits, Ehle was a champion and innovator for education. He spearheaded “the development of what is now the UNC School of the Arts” in 1963, after serving eighteen months as special assistant to then-governor Terry Sanford.

“If I were to write a guidebook for new governors,” Sanford said, “one of my main suggestions would be to find a novelist and put him on his staff.”

Ehle also helped found the NC School of Science and Math in Durham, which opened in 1980, and The Governor’s School.

An excellent obit in the Winston-Salem Journal offers this quote: “In state government, [Ehle] said, experts approach a problem armed with facts but often without intuition. Writers move first with intuition, hopefully with the facts.”

In a 1996 write-up in Raleigh’s The News & Observer, Ehle was lauded for his pioneering social work.

Worried about the state’s poor, Ehle was instrumental in creating the NC Fund, a pioneering anti-poverty effort that experimented with different approaches to helping people improve their lives. The program, unlike many government efforts, expired after five years, as it was designed to do.

The program later served as the model for the War on Poverty, VISTA, and the Peace Corps. Lyndon Johnson invited both Sanford and Ehle to the White House to witness the signing of the Great Society programs.

Ehle also one of the founders of the Awards Committee for Education that provides educational enrichment experiences for gifted young African Americans, Native Americans, and white Appalachians.

The Asheville Citizen-Times has described him as “the grandfather of Appalachian literature.”

Two of his novels, The Winter People and The Journey of August King, were made into films.

Press 53, based in Winston-Salem, has re-released some of Ehle’s work in their Carolina Classics series.