Skip to content

Pat Conroy, RIP

Pat Conroy’s desk

New York Times bestselling author Pat Conroy of Beaufort, South Carolina, passed away last week at the age of seventy. His universally read books include The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, both of which were made into Oscar-nominated movies.

There’s nothing we can say about him that hasn’t already been said better by someone else, so here are a few links to excellent stories that have been posted over the past week.

But we’ll give the last word to Lady Banks, who provided a lovely tribute in her Commonplace Books e-newsletter:

Obituaries and retrospectives abound, focusing mostly on how Conroy turned his dark life into the novels that so many people love. “Tortured” is the word the New York Times used. But there is another part of Mr. Conroy’s life that her ladyship, the editor, has noted and admired for a long while—Pat Conroy has been a generous and supportive presence in the lives of many new Southern writers. He mentored them, encouraged them, lent his support and his time. It is not uncommon—indeed, it is all too common—to talk to an author with a new or debut novel and find that Pat Conroy had offered advice on an early draft, answer a query with a lengthy response, or offered to read future work (a promise he always made good on). Recently he helped to start Story River Books, an imprint from the University of South Carolina Press, with the specific goal of nurturing the writers in his home state of South Carolina:

“Literature can choose anywhere it wants to be born. It can come from a nursing home in Seneca or Summerville, from an old mill town near Greenville, from a peach orchard in York, or from anywhere the sting and loveliness of language goes to dwell. I want Story River Books to find and nurture those voices, and for writers young and old in this infinitely variable state to be recognized and heard.”

Pat Conroy, RIP.

Bathanti named the Charles George VA Medical Center Writer-in-Residence

Posted courtesy of Appalachian State University:

© Sylvia Freeman

© Sylvia Freeman

BOONE—Joseph Bathanti has been named the Charles George VA Medical Center (VAMC) Writer-in-Residence in an innovative program in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) in Asheville. The program is funded by a North Carolina Arts Council and North Carolina Humanities Council grant.

Bathanti is a professor of creative writing at Appalachian State University and an award-winning novelist, poet, and essayist [and former North Carolina Poet Laureate – ed.].

During his tenure, Bathanti will teach and co-lead two eight-week creative writing workshops devoted to the recovery of Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These veteran-guided workshops will feature poetry and creative nonfiction (personal essay and memoir) as the primary genres – and will make the crucial connection as to how memory and the desire for healing feed these genres.

Bathanti will compile and edit an anthology featuring the writing produced in the workshops. In addition, using material from the workshops, he will create a readers theater script to be performed on stage in Asheville and across North Carolina.

The ultimate goal of these works is to raise awareness and spur the development of writing programs in VA medical centers and communities across North Carolina focused on the recovery and healing of wounded combat veterans. Bathanti’s role will be a central feature of the arts and humanities programming at Charles George VAMC led by Dr. Bruce Kelly, with support from community, state and national partners. In launching this innovative effort, Bathanti and Kelly will work closely with the funding agencies.

In addition, Bathanti will also co-lead a literature and discussion group for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans at Charles George VAMC as part of the initial VA pilot for the Great Books Foundation’s “Talking Service” program, which is funded by support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Wounded Warrior Project.

Bathanti’s involvement with veterans began when he was appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue as North Carolina’s seventh poet laureate, a position he held from 2012-14. His signature project as poet laureate was working with military veterans – those returning from combat and others – and their families, whenever possible, to tell their stories through poetry and other forms of writing.

“Not only do veterans have extraordinary stories to tell, but scholarship now exists demonstrating that writing about trauma can be instrumental in addressing and overcoming its consequences,” according to Bathanti. “It is clear from pockets of experience throughout the country that the study of literature and related writing can contribute in profound ways toward the recovery of wounded veterans. We know very clearly the value of shared experience and importance of community in the role of healing within veteran populations.”

Bathanti continued, “Dr. Kelly and I saw this up close in our initial pilot with veterans from his panel related to their combat experiences in Vietnam. To a man, they reported it was the best thing they’d done to address their PTSD since returning over four decades ago. Though we didn’t see their courage while deployed in-country, we did see it in the classroom as they shared the images, guilt, camaraderie and the impacts of combat on their post-deployment lives. Their openness and writing was honest, powerful and personal as they took on the long-standing grip of moral injury and post-traumatic stress.”

Bathanti credited Appalachian State University for its commitment to veterans on its campus and beyond and for supporting his writing project with veterans.

The workshops Bathanti will lead at the medical center will help establish a broader strategy in support of the medical humanities and creation of local capacities to bridge the military/civilian gap. The ultimate aim of this project is to empower change agents throughout the Veterans Health Administration, inspiring them to integrate programming in arts and humanities devoted to the recovery and healing of veterans who carry the wounds of war. These approaches are not only transformative for veterans, but help them reintegrate more fully with their families, friends, vocations and communities.

There is a growing mandate for arts and humanities within the military itself. It’s been part of the programming at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for over a decade, and is the standard of care at the affiliated National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NiCOE). The National Endowment for the Arts collaborated with the Department of Defense and provided major funding to expand this work for wounded veterans at two key military bases.

It’s estimated there are a quarter of a million Vietnam veterans still living with defined post-traumatic stress disorder, and countless numbers with sub-threshold effects. PTSD is, as well, one of the signature injuries from recent wars along with traumatic brain injury.

This initiative signals a groundbreaking collaboration among the Charles George VAMC, the North Carolina Arts Council, the North Carolina Humanities Council and community partners around shared vision and purpose. As Bathanti said, “It establishes a prototype for others to follow. Programs in arts and the humanities are an important addition to the foundation of excellent care provided by VA mental health services to help our wounded veterans move toward an even fuller sense of recovery. We hope to see this programming grow not only here in North Carolina, but throughout the entire VA system.”

This initiative was made possible through the support of community non-profits Asheville Community Theater and Asheville Buncombe Sustainable Community Initiatives, which submitted the grant proposals to the North Carolina Arts Council and the North Carolina Humanities Council. Community supporters whose contributions made this possible include HomeTrust Bank, Dana Stonestreet, Roberts & Stevens, PA, Attorneys, John and Dee Mason, Jack and Laurie Hamilton, and Robert Major and Suzanne Morse.

Those Timid Bourgeois Readers Probably Just Hate My Anarchist Politics

Cady Vishniac, a reader and copy editor for Raleigh Review (among the many other hats she wears), has a two-part series up at The MFA Years that should be required reading for anyone looking to land your poetry or prose in a lit mag.

In Part One, Cady “clears up some misconceptions about submissions,” including:

  • Nobody gets published without an MFA.
  • The readers probably didn’t even look at the whole thing.
  • That magazine turned me down in 2014. They must hate me.
  • I’m not really good enough to submit to top-tier magazines.
  • I posted my story to my personal blog or webpage.
  • Those timid bourgeois readers probably just hated my bold anarchist political statement.
  • This magazine is taking too long to get back to me.
  • They keep spamming me after I submit.

The takeaway?

Remember that readers are not the enemy. Litmags are not the enemy. I want to help you. I want to love your work. I want, sometimes desperately, to say yes.

In Part Two, Cady divulges her personal “dealbreakers,” some of the reasons she typically decides to reject a story. From story types (she really hates “revenge” stories, or thinly veiled pieces of therapeutic writing) to the many things you’ve heard time and time again will sink your submissions: clichès, poor technical skills, unnecessary exposition, and yes, writing that closely resembles porn.

Don’t let our bullet-points do all the work: both Parts One and Two are excellent reading in full, as Cady expounds on each subject and offers advice for making sure the editors can’t say no.

Saturday Is State Championship for Poetry Out Loud

Let’s get ready to RUUUUMBLE!

The Poetry Out Loud State Competition happens Saturday, March 5, at the Greensboro Central Public Library in Greensboro. High School students representing twenty-eight counties across North Carolina will compete for $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip with an adult chaperone to Washington, DC, to compete for the national championship.

The state winner’s school receives a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. The first runner-up in each state receives $100, with $200 for his or her school library.

North Carolina’s State Competition, now in its eleventh year, features recitations by students from public and private schools, including schools as far away as Jackson County in the mountains to Dare and New Hanover counties on the North Carolina coast.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation have partnered with U.S. state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.

After successful pilot programs in Washington, DC, and Chicago, Poetry Out Loud was launched in high schools nationwide in the spring of 2006 and has grown to involve millions of students across the country.

In 2015, Casey Goggin of Pinecrest High School in Moore County represented North Carolina and was the 2015 third place winner at the National Finals. Watch his recitation of “The Applicant” by Sylvia Plath, above.

To watch some pretty amazing kids read some even more amazing poetry, click here.

New State Capitol Statue Should Recognize Arts

After a twenty-five year moratorium on new statuary at the North Carolina State Capitol, a state-wide dialogue has begun for a new statue honoring African Americans in the Old North State.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate way to recognize the contributions of African Americans to North Carolina’s history than a monument at the State Capitol,” said (North Carolina) Governor (Pat) McCrory. “I encourage North Carolinians to actively participate in dialogue about key considerations and thematic elements for this important monument.”

The public has been invited to attend one of four hearings during the month of March. Planners are seeking feedback on the precise location, materials, size and scale of a proposed monument, as well as what thematic elements should be incorporated.

Needless to say, plenty of African American writers have impacted North Carolina, including North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame inductees Maya Angelou, Gerald Barrax, John Hope Franklin, Jaki Shelton Green, George Moses Horton, Harriet Jacobs, Pauli Murray, and Samm-Art Williams. Why not let our literary voices be heard?

Plan to attend one of the following sessions and encourage planners to honor African American contributions to the arts with the newest installment (the first meeting was yesterday, in Greensboro):

  • March 8 at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American + Culture, 551 South Tryon Street in Charlotte
  • March 22 at the Braswell Memorial Library, 727 North Grace Street in Rocky Mount
  • March 29, at the Shaw Auditorium at Fayetteville State University, 1200 Murchison Road in Fayetteville

Or contact the Deputy Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources Kevin Cherry at 919-807-7280 or mailing address 4610 MSC, Raleigh, NC 27699-4610.

Hendersonville Bookstore Needs New Logo

Same space, different name!

Since 2010, writers in Western North Carolina have grown to love the purveyor of books formerly known as The Fountainhead Bookstore—officially Novels and Novelties Bookstore as of the end of February.

According to the store’s website, the name change was necessary because “Fountainhead” was often misunderstood, presumably by fans of Ayn Rand, who no doubt came to Henderson County expecting shelves bursting with biographies of philosophers and Objectivist doctorate theses posing as pseudo-novels, published by anonymous, capitalist think-tanks hidden deep in the mountains. Such visitors were, of course, disappointed.

Instead, the bookshop is now Novels and Novelties, host of myriad literary events and ardent supporter of local and national writers, and they’re looking for a logo. One that “captures the essence of the friendly local bookstore” that’s always been, but that incorporates the new moniker.

They’re taking submissions through the end of March. E-mail NNBookstore@gmail.com.

Novels and Novelties is located at 408 N. Main St. in Hendersonville. Website: http://www.novelsandnovelties.com.

New Pauli Murray Biography

North Carolina author and activist Pauli Murray was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1998. Author of the famous autobiography Proud Shoes, which tells the story of her upbringing in Durham, Pauli received a law degree at Howard University, a Masters in Law from the University of California at Berkeley, and her doctorate from Yale. Later, she became the first female African American Episcopal Priest.

The Firebrand and the First Lady, a new biography from Patricia Bell-Scott, tells the story of the friendship between Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt. One might not immediately pair a “poet, intellectual rebel” and co-founder of the National Organization for Women (Murray) with the first lady of the United States, later first chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (Roosevelt). But:

It was a decades-long friendship—tender, moving, prodding, inspiring—sustained primarily through correspondence and characterized by brutal honesty, mutual admiration, and respect, revealing the generational and political differences each had to overcome in order to support each other’s growth as the transformative leaders for which they would be later known.

Drawing on letters, journals, published and unpublished documents, and interviews, Bell-Scott presents the first close-up portrait of this evolving friendship and how it was sustained over time, what each gave to the other, and how their friendship changed the cause of American social justice.

Patricia Bell-Scott is professor emerita of women’s studies and human development and family science at the University of Georgia. Her previous books include Life Notes: Personal Writings by Contemporary Black Women, which was a featured selection of The Quality Paperback Book Club and the Black Literary Guild; Flat-footed Truths: Telling Black Women’s Lives; Double Stitch: Black Women Write about Mothers and Daughters, which won the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize, and All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies, an award-winning textbook that was named to the Black Issues Books Review list of “Books that Made the Century Great.” To learn more, visit www.patriciabellscott.com.

The Firebrand and the First Lady is available from your local bookstore or www.Amazon.com.

Authors: Read This Before You Visit a Book Club

By Alice Osborn, NCWN Board Member and Wake County Regional Rep

The Wonderland Book Club

The Wonderland Book Club

You’re an author who’s accepted an invitation to appear before the Wonderland Book Club (or another fine book club)—now what? Connecting with your readers through book clubs is a smart marketing strategy. Not only are you going to sell your books, you’re also strengthening reader loyalty while playing the long game in terms of attracting raving fans for your next book.

Being a book club’s guest is a valuable opportunity, and here are several questions to ask so you can put yourself and your book in front of more readers:

Ask who is in your audience. Are they strong readers, occasional readers, writers themselves, homemakers, wine drinkers, pet owners, music lovers, and/or HBO fans? Even after you talk to the organizer/facilitator, contact a fellow author who has previously visited that book club or connect with a regular member so you can get the inside scoop of that club’s anatomy.

Ask who your facilitator/moderator is. Once you have that person’s e-mail, send her your website URL, frequently asked questions about your book, your bio/intro, headshot, and awards/literary distinctions. Follow up with your contact a week out and then the day before to make sure everything’s a “go.” I also recommend having your contact on speed-dial and mapping out the book club address via MapQuest or Google Maps so you are one step ahead of your GPS. Try to arrive at least fifteen minutes ahead of your scheduled time.

Ask if it’s a public book club. Can you invite others who aren’t regulars to this book gathering—if so, that’s awesome! Wonderland is open to the public, so our authors can invite their friends. Now you can post your book club appearance on your website, blog, newsletter, e-mail list, and in social media.

Ask how much time is available for you. Figure out beforehand how much time you’ll spend reading from your book, talking about your “author’s journey from writing to publication” and answering questions about the book itself.

Ask for a small table. This table will be where you’ll sell your discussion book as well as other books in your collection. You should also bring plenty of business cards, bookmarks, and a newsletter sign-up sheet so you can get folks to opt-in your e-mail list/newsletter.

Ask if there’s an honorarium. But only ask if the facilitator hasn’t brought it up. You don’t want to sound cheap or ungrateful, but you are driving to the club and spending time away from your work and family. Facilitators should lay out the expectations for the guest author so that there’s no awkward vibe. For instance, in Wonderland Book Club, we don’t have an honorarium, but we treat the authors to a nice Italian lunch, and I state that clearly from the get-go. On top of an honorarium, authors should be allowed to sell their books.

While at the book club meeting, take photos with the club so you can post these pics on social media and your website to gain more book-club invites. Remember, if it’s not posted on Facebook, then it didn’t really happen!

After the book club meeting, follow up on Facebook and Twitter by liking and commenting any posts the organizer has sent out. Also follow up with the organizer thanking her for the opportunity—don’t forget to follow up with those who have signed up for your newsletter, too.

Sharing your book with loyal readers is one of the great joys of being an author! Come prepared and well-rested to the meeting, but most of all, have fun and enjoy the interaction and discussion. This could be one of the best gatherings you’ve attended all year!

Alice Osborn

ALICE OSBORN, MA, is the author of four books of poetry: Heroes without Capes (Main Street Rag, 2015), After the Steaming Stops (Main Street Rag, 2012), Unfinished Projects (Main Street Rag, 2010) and Right Lane Ends (Catawba, 2006); she is also a freelance writer and teaching artist.

She facilitates the Wonderland Book Club, the regular Wake County regional meeting for the North Carolina Writers’ Network. Wonderland meets on the last Friday of the month, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm, at the Center for Excellence in Raleigh. There’s always a guest author. Usually the first hour is taken up with the book discussion, the author reads a few passages, and then in the last hour the floor is opened for the story behind the book. How was this book published and marketed? How long did the author take to write the book? Did the plot or characters come first? And the questions continue when book club members take the author to lunch.

Sound fun? Contact Alice at avosborn@earthlink.net or visit the Meet Up page for the Wonderland Book Club.

The Launch of Charlotte Lit

Charlotte LitThis weekend, celebrate the launch of the newest member of Charlotte’s arts community, Charlotte Lit:

Our mission is to promote a deeper understanding of self, community, and world by inspiring and educating readers, developing and supporting writers, and promoting creative, arts-focused conversations that strengthen and transform our community.

On Friday, February 19, at 7:00 pm, Charlotte Lit hosts a launch party that includes an interactive poetry exploration, a conversation with poet Linda Pastan, and a reading by the author. The event is free, but tickets are required.

Charlotte Lit will host Wednesday Write-Ins on the first and third Wednesdays, where writers are invited to gather at Charlotte Lit’s comfy Plaza-Midwood location for quiet writing time (two hours), followed by a group writing chat (thirty minutes).

They will also host a Third Friday Reading Series that will feature two readers plus an Open Mic. This event is hosted by M. Scott Douglass of Main Street Rag and Jonathan K. Rice of Iodine Poetry Journal. Additional upcoming events include workshops, salons, and book conversations.

For more information on Charlotte Lit, including how to apply to lead workshops, visit www.charlottelit.org.

They can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Looking Forward to Bookmarks Summer Reading Program

The annual Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors, held on the second Saturday of September, in downtown Winston-Salem, is always one of our favorite events of the year.

In 2015, Bookmarks established a Summer Reading Program aimed at connecting young readers with festival authors:

Bookmarks Summer Reading Program, now in its second year, helps students, parents, and teachers prepare for the annual Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors, which, this year, is being held September 8 – 10. K-12 students across North Carolina are invited to participate in the Summer Reading Program with written, visual, and video responses to books on Bookmarks Summer Reading list, including authors featured at the Festival and NC standard reading lists. Participants will have the chance to earn books, cash prizes, and more.

Middle and High School students who complete the responses will be entered to win a cash prize in
three categories—written response, illustrated response, video response. Middle and High School student entries will be judged together.

Students K-3 who read at least ten books and complete the response project will receive a completion prize of a voucher for a free book (of participants’ choice) to be redeemed at the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors. Students grades 4-12 who read the required number of books and complete the response project also will receive a completion prize of a voucher for a free book (of participants’ choice).

And just this month, Bookmarks announced a new partnership with Blue Door Group of Coldwell Banker Triad, Realtors. Blue Door Group will donate a percentage of all 2016 home commissions to support Bookmarks 2016 Summer Reading Program.

The Summer Reading Program Kick-off Party will be held on Thursday, May 12 from 5:30–7:30 pm at the William G. White Family YMCA at 775 West End Blvd., in Winston-Salem. Kids of all ages, parents, and teachers are invited to this free event to learn more about the 2016 Bookmarks Summer Reading Program presented by Blue Door Group! Enjoy pizza, games, prizes, and a short presentation by 2016 Festival Author Bonnie J. Doerr. Please reserve your space: rsvp@bookmarksnc.org / 336-747-1471.