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Exploring the American Writers Museum

Last weekend, I had the chance to visit the new American Writers Museum in Chicago, Illinois. I’d been looking forward to checking it out, having followed its initial fundraising efforts several years ago through its opening in the summer of 2017.

The result is an interactive full-immersion museum experience for book lovers. You know how you take your kids to a children’s museum, and there’s all this stuff there for them play with and touch, all in the name of learning? The American Writers Museum is kind of like that, but for adults who love to read.

Here, American literature is a living, breathing transformation, not something to view behind glass, but instead an ever-changing, organic thing that you can see, hear, taste, and take with you when you leave.

My traveling companions and I blew an entire morning here. Only an afternoon appointment (and lunchtime hunger pangs) pulled us away, kicking and screaming, because we really would rather have stayed.

There were way too many highlights to list, but here are a few:

1. The first exhibit is a touch screen that allows visitors to choose a state, then learn more about select writers from that state. Of course, I had to see who a Chicago museum chose to represent North Carolina. Harriet Ann Jacobs, William Sydney Portier (O. Henry), and Thomas Wolfe, it turns out, a respectable showing—North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame inductees, one and all.

2. I thought I knew a lot about writers and books, but the research accomplished by this museum truly made for an exceptional experience. Did you know Emily Dickinson baked award-winning pies? Or that Chester Himes—author of If He Hollers, Let Him Go, one of my favorite novels—wrote a famous detective series in a genre known as “black noir”? Or that Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards and then pieced them all together? Maybe you did, but I sure didn’t!

Really, all the exhibits went way beyond superficial homage and offered a true deep-dive into cherished American works by American authors.

3. Several exhibits offer passages read aloud, from John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not” speech to a scene from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, to a selection from Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day (read by LeVar Burton!) to displays that allow you to view videos, admire chotskies, and smell scents related to certain literary passages, and more.

4. The museum lets visitors vote for their five favorite books: people still read and love To Kill a Mockingbird and the major works of John Steinbeck. Harper Lee’s famous novel and at least three of Steinbeck’s better-read works were on the Top 10 favorite books. (Yes, I definitely voted for five books written by my friends. Guilty as charged. And I won’t be shamed!)

5. North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame inductee Carl Sandburg embodies the Illinois-North Carolina connection. World-famous for his poem “Chicago,” Sandburg also raised prize-winning goats at his home Connemara in Flat Rock. He’s represented throughout the museum, being one of the Windy City’s most beloved poets, including as part of a striking exhibit of black and white photographs shot by James Jones.

Like I said, really too much to write about here. But if you find yourself in Chicago, it’s absolutely necessary to make time in your itinerary for a visit.

Tickets are an insanely reasonable $12 for adults ($8 for seniors and students), which seems like an absolute steal compared to other Chicago tourist attractions.

Just leave yourself plenty of time to geek out!

One last thought: toward the end, there’s an exhibit that allows you to create sentences with words offered up at random. Here’s the sentence I came up with, which, looking back, might easily be viewed as a subsconsious tribute to one of Chicago’s favorite sons and acrobatic wordsmiths, Saul Bellow:

Speedy world, yet racing, he sees what forever feels happiest.

Eat your heart out, Saul!

And yeah. I bought the hat. And a refrigerator magnet.

St. Andrews University Press Approaches 50 Years of Excellence

St. Andrews University Press, based in Laurinburg, is about to turn fifty: a testimony to their legacy of excellence.

Founded as America’s first undergraduate press in 1969, St. Andrews University Press has since published over 200 titles of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and drama, including North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame inductees Fred Chappell, Sam Ragan, Shelby Stephenson, and founding editor Ronald H. Bayes.

The aim of the Press and the St. Andrews Review is to provide a place for established, establishing, or emerging voices to be heard. We are particularly interested in giving voice to emerging poets and writers in our home state of North Carolina.

They’re the de facto publisher of all scholarship on the famous Black Mountain College, and they publish a literary magazine, CAIRN: The St. Andrews Review, as well as an undergraduate rag, Gravity Hill. They also publish the annual winner of The Lena M. Shull Book Contest, sponsored by the North Carolina Poetry Society.

St. Andrews is involved with the greater North Carolina literary community as well, helping to facilitate the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poets Mentor Series, where promising student poets at the middle school, high school, college/university and adult level the opportunity to work with a distinguished published poet.

For more information, visit or follow them on Facebook.

Press 53 and the World as It Is

If you’ve been to a North Carolina Writers’ Network event in the past seven years (at least), you’ve seen Press 53 represented in our exhibit hall, on our panels, and in our Critique Service and Manuscript Marts.

They publish a lot of renowned North Carolina writers. Our own Executive Director, Ed Southern, for one. Also, North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame inductees Doris Betts, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Guy Owen, Shelby Stephenson, and John Ehle, whose Land Breakers series is being re-released as part of a Carolina Classics series.

Also, former NC poet laureates Joseph Bathanti and Cathy Smith Bowers. Also, award-winning fiction writer Taylor Brown. And, frankly, too many NCWN members to list here.

What the Zhang Boys Know (2012), a novel in stories by Clifford Garstang, won the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction, and in 2015, earned Garstang the Indiana Emerging Author Award. The story collection One Last Good Time by Michael Kardos won the 2012 Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters Award for Fiction.

Founded in 2005, Press 53 currently publishes short fiction collections and poetry. They also publish Prime Number Magazine, a quarterly online publication of distinctive poetry and short fiction.

Tough and visceral, Press 53’s titles, by and large, offer steady and unflinching stare-downs with the world as it is.

While Press 53 does not accept unsolicited submissions, there are a number of ways to catch their editors’ attention.

The Press 53 Award for Short Fiction (open September 1 – December 31) and the Press 53 Award for Poetry (open April 1 – July 31) offer $1,000 and publication to each winner. Many winners of the Prime Number Magazine awards have also eventually had their collections published by Press 53, who also prefers to publish authors who get involved in their literary community and who appear widely in literary journals.

So, that’s a hint: come on out to the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2018 Spring Conference on Saturday, April 21, at UNCG —where Press 53 publisher Kevin Morgan Watson will be on-hand as an exhibitor and as a panelist for Slush Pile Live!—and say hello. Or sign up for A Gathering of Poets, March 23-25, in Winston-Salem for workshops, readings, and more.

To learn more about Press 53, visit their website at, or follow them on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Lune Spark Young Writers’ Short Story Writing Contest

Lune Spark Books, a publisher of books and animation for middle grade and younger, seeks nominations from writers, bloggers, and media persons to judge the 2018 Lune Spark Young Writers’ Short Story Writing Contest!

In the spirit of giving back to the community, Lune Spark Books runs a yearly Short Story Contest for children in two age ranges: 10-13 years and 13-16 years, and publishes the top twenty to twenty-five stories from the contest. Members of the North Carolina Writers’ Network are encouraged to nominate themselves to serve as judges.

What you will get:

  • Association with the good cause of encouraging young writers to write fiction.
  • Exposure on our website/ social sites and you will be featured in various promotions. Our contest appears in a large number of searches on the web.
  • Credit in the book that will contain top stories from 2018 contest.

The 2018 contest has a deadline of April 22 for story submissions. The total reading a judge would need to do would not exceed 150 pages of a typical novel.

More details can be found on the link below. If you are passionate about helping young writers, please submit the simple form below and Lune Spark Books will get back to you:

Please apply by March 2.

Georgia McBride Media Group Weds Fantasy and Romance

Raleigh resident Georgia McBride “founded the #YAlitchat hashtag and weekly chat on Twitter in 2009.” There, she hosted popular authors and began to build the brand that would become the Georgia McBride Media Group.

The Georgia McBride Media Group publishes debut authors as well as USA Today and New York Times bestselling authors. They offer three imprints: Month9Books, Swoom Romance, and Tantrum Books.

Month9Books published their first title in 2012 and their first full list in 2013. Their titles have received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, and won the Minotaur Parents Choice Award, among other nominations. Their books have been optioned for tv and film and licensed internationally; many of their authors are repped by agents.

Focusing on the “tweens and teens” market, Month9Books authors include Chris Ledbetter, Leigh Statham, and Georgia McBride (publisher).

Month9Books offers two additional imprints: Tantrum Books for readers ages 7-12, and Swoon Romance for adult readers of books that make you “swoon.”

Tantrum Books authors include Natalie Decker, Rebekah L, Purdy, and Elizabeth Miceli. Tantrum Books authors include Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Jennie K.Brown, and Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Jennie K.Brown.

Swoon Romance is currently open for submissions through March 31 in Young Adult and Contemporary Adult Romance. Month9Books and Tantrum Books are closed to unagented submissions. All three imprints accept agented submissions year ’round.

If you attend enough book fairs and cons you’re sure to see them around. Otherwise you can learn more on the web at, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Nancy Peacock is 2018 Piedmont Laureate

Nancy Peacock

New York Times bestselling novelist and longtime friend of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, Nancy Peacock, has been named the 2018 Piedmont Laureate.

Nancy Peacock’s first novel, Life Without Water, was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book. She has since published stories, essays, and poems, as well two more novels and a memoir. Her latest book, a historical novel titled The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson, was chosen as the Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book of 2013. In 2015, the book won the 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Award for Best Self-Published Book, which led to its purchase by Atria Press. Peacock believes in the power of story to transform and heal:

Nancy is also a beloved writing teacher, having led the Fiction Master Class at the NCWN 2014 Spring Conference, among other past NCWN conference visits. She leads two longtime writing classes for women in Carrboro, and a monthly prompt class (free!) at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. Countless writers have benefited from her wisdom and generosity.

According to an article on the City of Raleigh website, “Nancy Peacock has been writing since fourth grade. She is largely self-taught and well-mentored.”

“For me, writing is a little dance,” Peacock says. “I have to make myself walk across the room and ask the partner I think I’m interested in to dance with me. That’s the going forward part, the making myself sit down at the desk even when I don’t know what I’m doing, or have a full plot or character in mind.”

The goal of the Piedmont Laureate program is to “promote awareness and heighten appreciation for excellence in the literary arts in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.” Nominees must live in Durham, Orange, or Wake counties. Each year, the nomination goes to a writer in a different genre. Laureates agree to hold public readings, offer workshops for all age groups, and generally promote literature online and in the physical realm.

Peacock was recognized in a ceremony at the North Carolina Museum of Art on Tuesday, January 16. She will serve a one-year term.

Mimi Herman was the 2017 Piedmont Laureate (poetry).

The Piedmont Laureate program is co-sponsored by the City of Raleigh Arts Commission, Durham Arts Council, Orange County Arts Commission, and United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County.

Telling Your Story: a Call for Personal Essays

by Randell Jones

Personal Essay Publishing Project

Everybody loves a good story; everybody has a story to tell. Some folks just need the right opportunity and perhaps a little encouragement to share it.

That is the mission of the Personal Essay Publishing Project, a chance for both new and experienced writers to craft a story from their own lives around a common theme and then to see their creative efforts shared in print in an anthology.

The current project, through mid-February 2018, takes its theme from the life of America’s pioneer hero, Daniel Boone, during an episode of his adventures 250 years ago in the winter of 1767-68.

Snowbound in the Wilderness

After the fall harvest in 1767, Daniel Boone left his Wilkes County home on Beaver Creek in North Carolina for a winter hunt. Boone and his companions passed through the Appalachian Mountains along the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River. That water gap is today in Breaks Interstate Park, straddling the border between Virginia and Kentucky near Elkhorn City, Kentucky. The hunters were caught in the wilderness by an early and heavy snow storm; they had to winter over.

The men’s supplies ran low, especially shot and powder for their rifles. Rather than exhaust themselves and squander their ammunition by chasing scarce game through the deep snow, they camped at a salt spring near today’s David, Kentucky. They conserved their resources by waiting to shoot the wild game that came their way seeking the salt lick. Boone and his fellow hunters survived the winter through their woodsman skills, making do. Enduring the monotony of being snowbound, they kept their spirits high, and their resolve to overcome their adverse circumstances never waned. After surviving a long, harsh winter, the men returned home in the spring, having had quite an adventure and delighting their families with their long-awaited return.

Telling Your Own Story

In the spirit of finding oneself in a challenging circumstance and persevering by making do, you are invited to write a personal essay about some experience of your own life in which you made do, kept your spirits high, or your resolve strong. Or perhaps your experience did not end so positively. In any case, you are invited to share your story in 750 words in a personal essay.

Only North Carolina and Kentucky authors will be included in the final collection, as it pays tribute to the resourcefulness and the character of Daniel Boone and his colleagues on the 250th anniversary of their experience hunting in the wilderness.

You may write about your own experience or share the story of a family member or someone you know personally. These are short, personal essays of real-life experiences. No fiction will be considered.

For more information about this “Call for Personal Essays,” visit Click “Classroom” in the main menu and scroll down to “Personal Essay Publishing Project.”

Make your own history; share your good story with everybody.

Orison Books Journeys Toward Enlightenment

“It is a uniquely gratifying feeling to be able to present the work of a writer in an extended form—the form of a book,” says Orison Books founding editor Luke Hankins. “Which is perhaps a more durable form.”

It is this sense of longevity, of the longview, of the certainty that centuries-old spirituality still has something to offer our modern day, which infuses this small non-profit press.

Based in Asheville, Orison Books believes that “the best spiritual art and literature call us to meditate and contemplate, rather than asking us to adopt any ideology or set of propositions.” To those ends, they publish fiction, nonfiction, and poetry of “exceptional literary merit,” work that is “broad, inclusive, and open to perspectives spanning the spectrums of spiritual and religious thought, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”

Since its founding in 2014, Orison Books has published poems that were twice featured in The New York Times Magazine. Their books have been reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Foreword Reviews, among other outlets, and have been finalists for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, The National Jewish Book Award in Poetry, and The Paterson Poetry Prize.

The annual Orison Books Prizes in Fiction and Poetry are open now through April 1. This year’s judges are Vandana Khanna (Poetry) and Lan Samantha Chang (Fiction). Fiction manuscripts may consist of short stories, a novel, a novella, flash/micro fiction, or any combination of forms, as long as the manuscript meets the 30,000 word minimum. Full-length poetry collections should run between 50 and 100 pages. The winning entry in each genre will be awarded publication and a $1,500 cash prize, in addition to a standard royalties contract.

Otherwise, Orison Books accepts submissions year-round in the category of nonfiction, poetry in translation, and anthology proposals. General fiction submissions are read only during the month of October.

Their author list includes Jessie van Eerden, Stella Vinitchi Radulescu, and new translations from the Urdu of nineteenth-century mystical poet Ghalib, by M. Shahid Alam.

As a volunteer-run non-profit, they rely on the generous support of donors and readers. Tax-deductible donations can be made here.

Orison Books seeks donors to support the publication of their forthcoming titles, in part or in full. Donors of $100 or more will be listed in the book they choose to support. You can see forthcoming titles in need of a donor, here.

Keep an eye out for the North Carolina Writers’ Network Spring 2018 newsletter, which drops on or around March 1, for a full Q&A with Luke Hankins and much, much more about Orison Books!

Dream Big with Book Harvest on MLK Day

Book Harvest, based in Durham, believes that books are “essential to children’s healthy development and well-being and that all children deserve to grow up in book-rich homes.”

As part of their mission to remove barriers to book ownership, Book Harvest will host the Dream Big Book Drive on Monday, January 15: Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

Held in the afternoon in Durham Central Park, the event is part book drive, part community service event, part festival, complete with live music, literary mascots, activities for children, and other family-oriented programming.

For Book Harvest, this national holiday isn’t a day off, but instead a “day on.”

According to their blog, 198 people have already registered to volunteer. The event has drawn support from 64 sponsors, including Duke University Library, Scholastic, and Written Word Media. In addition, some 45 book drives have registered to also hold events that day.

That’s right: even you can run an book drive. On its website, Book Harvest lists all the tools you need to start collecting books. “All the tools you need to run a book drive in your neighborhood, school, congregation, civic group, or workplace” are in their online toolkit.

Book Harvest believes books are vital to helping all children succeed in school—and life. In addition to their annual Dream Big event, Book Harvest offers programs for providing books to families with newborns; providing books to kids about to go on summer break; a community book bank; and more.

To learn more about Book Harvest, visit, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Sally Buckner (1931-2018)

Summing up a life like Sally Buckner’s, who was a longtime friend of the North Carolina Writers’ Network and a beloved member of our state’s literary community, inevitably fails to do the person justice.

We could talk about how Sally earned her Ph.D from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Or how she spent more than a quarter-century teaching at Peace College in Raleigh. Or how she was integral to the current iterations of the North Carolina Poetry Society, International Poetry Festival, and North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, often introducing inductees and offering up her encyclopedic knowledge of our state’s writers to enhance the ceremony program.

We could talk about her publication credits, mostly fiction and poetry, or her work as an editor on books such as Words and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry (CAP, 1999) or as a staff writer for Asheville Poetry Review. We could even talk about her vast correspondence with literary lights such as NC Literary Hall of Fame inductees Betty Adcock, Doris Betts, Fred Chappell, Sam Ragan, Shelby Stephenson, and many others.

But all of these accomplishments, as impressive and beautiful as they are, still don’t capture what Sally Buckner meant to her community and most of all, to her friends. Many, many writers have expressed deep gratitude to Sally for the impact she had on their lives. In this weekend’s outpouring on social media, words such as “friend,” “mentor,” and “beloved” pop up time and time again.

Were her life a word cloud, these descriptors would be at the center. And that is a life to admire.

In 2016, Sally Buckner was honored with The Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Among the most prestigious awards conferred by the Governor of North Carolina, this award is bestowed upon a person for exemplary service to the State of North Carolina and their communities above and beyond the call of duty, and which has made a significant impact and strengthened North Carolina.

“Sally was one of the lights of this state,” said NCWN Executive Director Ed Southern.

She is irreplaceable, and will be missed.