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Valerie Macon is North Carolina’s New Poet Laureate

By Ed Southern, Executive Director, North Carolina Writers’ Network

Valerie Macon

The North Carolina Writers’ Network stands for writing as “everybody’s art.” In our mission statement, we affirm that “writing is necessary both for self-expression and a healthy community, that well-written words can connect people across time and distance, and that the deeply satisfying experiences of writing and reading should be available to everyone.” We are egalitarian, democratic with a lower-case “d,” and anti-elitist.

We stand for excellence, for preserving and promoting the best of North Carolina writing, for continuing and strengthening and deepening North Carolina’s remarkable literary tradition. We believe that fine writers can come from Duke and Oxford like Reynolds Price, or from the Marines and carnival sideshows like Tim McLaurin. We believe fine writing can come from anyone, any place, any press or publisher, including yourself.

Some writers publish more work than others, sell more copies and make more money than others, win more awards, get more glowing reviews, tell more gripping stories, construct more elegant sentences, use more evocative words. Some writers are better than others.

That does not cheapen or negate the work, the effort, or the passion any writer puts into their words; he or she still is just as much a writer as any other. Whatever our level of skill or experience, education or fame, we are all writers as long as we’re writing, all lovers of the written word and what it can do, all fighting the good fight for the caring and thoughtful use of the language.

I do not know Valerie Macon or her work, but I know people who do, and they describe her as a kind and caring person who is well-liked and active in Fuquay-Varina, where she has done great work with and for the homeless population.

I do not know why Governor McCrory’s office selected Valerie to be North Carolina’s new poet laureate. I do not even know how the governor’s office went about selecting her out of all the poets now writing in North Carolina.

I do know the governor’s office chose to make the appointment without the usual (and public) nomination, selection, and recommendation process conducted by the North Carolina Arts Council.

I do know that bypassing this process—bypassing not so much the North Carolina Arts Council, as the people of the state—devalues the state’s literary community and tradition, the poet laureate position, and—through no fault of her own—Valerie’s tenure in the position.

Dannye Romine Powell, for the Charlotte Observer, and David Menconi, for the Raleigh News & Observer, have covered well the announcement and the reactions to it, and I recommend their articles and blog posts to everyone (full disclosure: Dannye and David are members of the Network). Even they, though, have not gotten answers to the two biggest questions remaining: why did the governor’s office ignore the traditional and offered help of the state Arts Council, and how did they come to select Valerie Macon?

Jaki Shelton Green

Jaki Shelton Green

Whatever the intrinsic quality of Valerie’s poetry, she does not have a body of work comparable in size or recognition to those of our past laureates. Those laureates, too, all were teachers of long service and high renown, and were well-known to poets and readers across the state and beyond.

The “selection criteria” that, until recently, were posted on the Arts Council’s website (Menconi posted them on the “Under the Dome” blog) called for “literary excellence,” “influence on other writers,” and “statewide, national or international reputation.” On Friday, Valerie’s website—which also has come down recently—said she has two books of poetry, both self-published through Old Mountain Press. Both books, the site said, were nominees for the Pushcart Prize, but Pushcart Prizes are not given to book-length works, and anyone can nominate any work for a Pushcart.

Really, though, Valerie’s resume is less important than the way she became laureate. The North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame this fall will induct four outstanding poets (Betty Adcock, Ronald Bayes, Jaki Shelton Green, and Shelby Stephenson), but if any of them had been appointed poet laureate in such a sudden and apparently arbitrary way, we would be right to object.

The traditional nomination process allowed any and all North Carolinians to suggest poets they thought deserved to be our state’s “ambassador” of poetry and the written word. Those poets were told they had been nominated, and, if they accepted the nomination, were asked to provide work samples, lists of publications and awards, references and recommendations, a statement of what they would hope to accomplish as laureate: in other words, to create a public record of the reasons they should be the poet laureate.

The Arts Council then brought together North Carolinians—poets, professors, editors, journalists, even (once, at least) an executive director—representing as much of the state’s population as possible to discuss and decide which of these nominees the council should recommend to the governor, who—no offense to poets or poetry—presumably has more pressing matters at hand, and probably, sadly, is not as up-to-date on contemporary poetry as he or she should be.

Choosing to ignore this process means choosing to ignore the people of the state. It does not mean that Valerie will not perform her laureate duties well. It does mean that Valerie enters her laureateship in a difficult and unfair position, deprived of the consensus and support that the customary selection process would have built.

Joseph Bathanti

Joseph Bathanti

I hope Valerie will be an outstanding poet laureate. I hope she will use the laureate’s position and platform to increase and expand her work with the homeless, as she has said she plans. I hope she will be as effective in those efforts as Joseph Bathanti has been in his work with returning veterans. I hope the Network will be able to help her, as our past laureates have pledged to, in that or any other productive mission she decides to undertake.

I hope that the governor’s office will remember this experience, will see the value of the laureate position, and will accept the help of the North Carolina Arts Council when selecting the next.

I hope that all this will show others—and remind us—how much our poet laureate matters, how much poetry matters, how much the written word matters, to so many: to those fighting the good fight, with whatever weapons they have, and to those who don’t realize the fight’s being fought.

Here’s to the Writingest State!

At this year’s Squire Summer Writing Residency, registrants got to know one another by collaborating on new stanzas for North Carolina’s State Toast.

North Carolina is the only U.S. state with an official toast. Here’s the first stanza of the original:

Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine,
The summer land where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great,
Here’s to “Down Home,” the Old North State!

And here’s what Squire Summer Writing Residency attendees penned:

Here’s to the land of the ocean’s roar,
Where bicycle mechanics rise and soar,
Where Wolfe and Sandburg came to create,
So, Tar Heels, toast the Old North State!

Here’s to the land where the wind blows fair,
Home to Hatteras light and Virginia Dare,
Where the people work hard—early and late,
On the Outer Banks of the Old North State!

Here’s to the sea where fishermen toil,
The inland palace found Tryon disloyal,
Where potters and weavers and writers create,
And in summer the Yankees still swarm the Old North State!

Here’s to the land where authors blossom,
Huler, Stephenson, Kenan—awesome!
Where writers gather behind Peace’s gate,
The writingest land, the Old North State!

Here’s to the land where the keyboards pound,
Where the spouses complain of the ceaseless sound,
Where submissions are swift, rejections late,
To the writingest scribes of the Old North State!

(Scott Huler, who lead the workshop in creative nonfiction and who knows a thing or two about North Carolina’s State Toast, was so moved by the program he wrote the final stanza all by himself….)

SIBA Announces 2014 Book Award Winners

Cathy Smith Bowers

Cathy Smith Bowers

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance has announced their 2014 Book Award Winners. Two North Carolina residents and a North Carolina-based press are among those honored.

Cathy Smith Bowers, of Charlotte, won the Poetry category for The Collected Poems of Cathy Smith Bowers (Press 53). Bowers was North Carolina’s sixth Poet Laureate, 2010-2012. Press 53 is based in Winston-Salem.

Chapel Hill’s Sarah Dessen won the Young Adult category for The Moon and More. She is the author of eleven novels, and a motion picture based on her first two books, titled How to Deal, was released in 2003.

The 2014 SIBA Book Award winners are:

Children’s Winner: The Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson (Walden Pond Press)
Cooking Winner: Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups and Then Some by John Currence (Andrews McMeel)
Fiction Winner: Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall (Gallery Books)
Nonfiction Winner: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (Crown)
Poetry Winner: The Collected Poems of Cathy Smith Bowers by Cathy Smith Bowers (Press 53)
Young Adult Winner: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen (Viking Juvenile)

Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen

So, what’s SIBA’s 2014 Book Award all about?

Each year, hundreds of booksellers across the South vote on their favorite “handsell” books of the year. These are the “southern” books they have most enjoyed selling to customers; the ones that they couldn’t stop talking about. The SIBA Book Award was created to recognize great books of southern origin.

For more information about SIBA and the winning books, click here.

See Yourself on the Silver Screen

From the Council for the Arts (Jacksonville/Onslow):

Want to be in Nicholas Sparks’ The Longest Ride movie? Now is your chance! You will be helping the Council for the Arts!

The Longest Ride will be filming a rodeo scene in Jacksonville, NC, the last three days in July (Tuesday, July 29, Wednesday, July 30, and Thursday, July 31).

The production company will be donating $20 per person per day to the Council for the Arts!

We ask that you email or call us with the following information:

Please include a name, phone number, email, and age category (adult, teen, or child), so that the production company can contact you with the details of filming (where to go, what to bring, etc.).

*Children should be older than 10 years old, since this will be an all-day commitment (12-15 hours).

Please send your contact info to: Connie Wenner at jaxarts@jaxarts.com

If you have any questions, give us a call at 910-455-9840 (Council for the Arts) Please specify which day you would like to work.

NC Authors Among Summer OKRA Picks

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance has announced their Summer 2014 Okra Picks—the best Southern lit, “fresh off the vine.”

The short list includes the following North Carolina authors:

For a complete list of the Summer 2014 Okra Picks, click here.

The Okra Picks are a dozen fresh titles chosen each season that SIBA Indie Bookstores want to handsell. These books should be Southern in nature but can cover any genre, not just fiction. Southerners love their writers, and we want to be at the forefront of bringing them a strong selection of southern titles not to be missed each season.

For more information about the Okra Picks and The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, click here.

Library Journal’s SELF-e Launches in Beta Libraries

From BiblioLabs:

In advance of the 2014 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference, Library Journal (LJ) and BiblioBoard are pleased to announce the launch of beta versions of the LJ SELF-e platform and curation service at the following library systems: Los Angeles Public Library, San Diego County Public Library, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Arizona State Library through Reading Arizona; and statewide in Massachusetts through the Massachusetts eBook Project.

LJ’s SELF-e, announced in May 2014, connects self-published authors with public libraries and their patrons—both locally and nationally. Using the SELF-e submission portal, authors in the beta libraries’ communities can submit their self-published ebook(s) for display and patron access across that state. Additionally, they have the opportunity to opt-in to allow LJ to evaluate and select titles for inclusion in curated genre collections that participating public libraries will make available to their patrons all over the United States. SELF-e submissions will be accepted on a rolling basis, with the first collections set to be released later this year.

The submission portal is branded by the author’s local library. Each state will come up with its own title for the Module with its state’s authors. For example, Arizona has chosen the title “One Book Arizona” for their statewide Module celebrating the work of local authors. SELF-e, a royalty-free service, appeals to writers looking for the next-generation discovery service for ebooks in libraries.

LJ is thrilled to embark on this project. “We’ve been assessing the self-published title landscape for the past three years, and it has been frustrating to see the gap remain unbridged between self-published authors, public libraries, and their patrons,” says Ian Singer, publisher at Library Journal. “We didn’t want to be another fee-based review service for self-published titles, as that’s not providing a solution to authors or libraries. We’ve been looking for a way to connect the two for their common audience, the reader. LJ’s unsurpassed expertise in reviewing titles—which is critical for library book selection—coupled with the BiblioBoard platform is a compelling solution to unite all three.”

Mitchell Davis, founder and Chief Business Officer of BiblioLabs, is eager for libraries to begin using the system. “This local library aspect is the part of SELF-e that accepts every author, no matter what self-publishing service they use or whether or not their book is accepted into the LJ-curated Module. It’s a space to celebrate the state’s local talent and enhance the community of a region’s authors and readers. We’re honored to be working with such great libraries for the initial release of the service.”

SELF-e was inspired in part by Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL), one of the libraries now previewing the feature. CCPL librarian Sari Feldman, president-elect of the American Library Association, shares Davis’s excitement about the project’s launch. “As libraries evolve in the 21st century, we recognize the increasingly important role that libraries must play in advancing both reading and writing communities. CCPL is delighted to participate in the SELF-e beta program because we have been searching for an effective tool to support self-published authors as well as the community of readers who want to connect with new work.”

Los Angeles Public Library’s Catherine Royalty sees SELF-e as way to develop the library’s literary community in the digital sphere. Royalty says, “We are very excited to be partnering with Library Journal and BiblioBoard to showcase emerging self-published authors at the library. We plan to use the product to foster a community of local authorship and to provide our patrons with access to exciting new literary voices.”

After the beta period is over, the library-branded submission system and subsequent state Module will be available free to every public library that subscribes to BiblioBoard as a core part of the platform.

Founded in 1876, Library Journal is one of the oldest and most respected publications covering the library field. Over 100,000 library directors, administrators, and staff in public, academic, and special libraries read LJ. Library Journal reviews over 7,000 books, audiobooks, videos, databases, and websites annually, and provides coverage of technology, management, policy, and other professional concerns. For more information, visit www.libraryjournal.com.

BiblioBoard is the PatronsFirst™ mobile library. The folks behind BiblioBoard are a powerful team based in Charleston, SC. They aim to transform access to information by providing a world-class user experience that thrills library patrons and is profitable for publishers. BiblioBoard is moving library content delivery into the future in a sustainable way. BiblioLabs is also a proud member of the Charleston Digital Corridor. To learn more, visit www.biblioboard.com.

More than a Poet, but a Poet First: a Tribute to Maya Angelou

By Ed Southern, Executive Director, NCWN

Dr. Maya Angelou

Dr. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou did so much more than write.

She danced with Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey, sang calypso, became the first African-American woman to operate a San Francisco cable car, acted on stage and in films and in Roots, composed a film score, edited newspapers, raised money for Martin Luther King, Jr., counted among her friends both King and Malcolm X, and knew six languages.

Yet she devoted most of her life and considerable energy to writing, and described herself, first and foremost, as a poet.

She attained a worldwide celebrity that few authors, especially poets, ever enjoy. James Baldwin helped her shape her first book, the bestselling I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Bill Clinton asked her to be a part of his first inauguration. Reporters (including, once in 1992, a skinny, pimply writer for the Wake Forest student newspaper) sought her opinions on world events. The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live spoofed her, lovingly. Oprah Winfrey adored her. She’d lived and worked in California, New York City, Cairo, Ghana.

Yet since she arrived in 1982, she made—and kept—her home in North Carolina. Two years ago I had the honor of letting her know that she was to be inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, and in my letter I mentioned our Wake Forest connection, and my awkward attempt to interview her twenty years before.

Her gracious response expressed her pride in being included in the august company of North Carolina, and her pride simply in being a Tarheel—“though not,” she added, “a Tarheel.” (Go Deacs.)

“I expect to be in Winston-Salem the rest of my life,” she told Fresh Air in 1986. “My books are there, my art is there, my friends are there, and my work is there.”

Maya Angelou died yesterday morning in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which was and is proud to have been her home.

Dr. Maya Angelou, RIP

The Winston-Salem Journal is reporting that beloved poet, actress, and activist Dr. Maya Angelou has died at the age of 86.

WXII 12 News has confirmed.

Dr. Angelou lived in Winston-Salem and was the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. She read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. She was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 2012.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends.

So What’s the Deal with Authors Alliance?

Authors Alliance celebrated its public launch on May 21. A membership organization devoted to “promoting authorship for the public good by supporting authors who write to be read,” Authors Alliance:

…embraces the unprecedented potential digital networks have for the creation and distribution of knowledge and culture. We represent the interests of authors who want to harness this potential to share their creations more broadly in order to serve the public good….The mission of Authors Alliance is to further the public interest in facilitating widespread access to works of authorship by assisting and representing authors who want to disseminate knowledge and products of the imagination broadly. We provide information and tools designed to help authors better understand and manage key legal, technological, and institutional aspects of authorship in the digital age.

Which sounds fine and good. After all, what author outside of J.D. Salinger doesn’t want to be read? But what if you want to be read…and paid?

Ah. There’s the kicker.

In a blog post for MichelleRichmond.com, T.J. Stiles breaks down the stated mission of Authors Alliance, an organization dedicated to “radically fair use.” He urges readers not to join Authors Alliance due to their “aggressive and expansive agenda that was crafted without working authors in mind.”

Executive Director Pamela Samuelson, a law professor at Berkeley, told Publisher’s Weekly that Authors Alliance is intended to “represent the interests of authors who don’t write for a living—academics and hobbyists.” Other potential organizational positions include:

  • allowing people to resell digital files the way they can resell used physical books
  • allowing libraries to digitally copy your books, even if you have an e-book edition for sale
  • allowing private for-profit corporations to copy your books in their entirety and selling advertising against searches of them, and otherwise making money from your work
  • allowing potentially unlimited copying for educational uses
  • requiring proper attribution of others’ works

Stiles goes on to note that the founding members, as academics, “don’t care about the commercial market for books or writing.” They all earn six-figure salaries from their day jobs, or they are independently wealthy. Which means “Their interests lie in getting your books at low cost to supply their own academic work, and in advancing their own careers and incomes by making their own work available for free.”

Authors GuildStiles is careful to say that if authors want to give their work away that is perfectly fine—he’s nothing if not “pro choice.” He just doesn’t want anyone making the decision for him.

As a board member of the Authors Guild, the nation’s largest and oldest professional society of published authors, Stiles does have a horse in the race. But he’s also a working writer who expects to be paid for his efforts.

The Authors Guild has been the nation’s leading advocate for writers’ interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts and free expression since it was founded as the Authors League of America in 1912. It provides legal assistance and a broad range of web services to its members. Their website is http://www.authorsguild.org/.

NC Arts Day

By Ed Southern, Executive Director, North Carolina Writers’ Network

ARTS NCYesterday I joined hundreds of other representatives from North Carolina’s arts organizations for “Arts Day” at the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. We spent the day visiting legislators in their offices, making the case for sustained funding of the North Carolina Arts Council and its grants program.

Many of you know that our annual Statewide Services Grant is the Network’s third-largest single source of revenue, behind only member dues and conference registrations. Thanks in large part to this support, we have not had to raise our prices—for membership, conference registration*, or the critique service—since 2007.

In that same period, though, the dollar amount of that grant has declined by nearly one-third, as state funding for the North Carolina Arts Council has declined by 38 percent. Quite simply, they’re not giving the Network as much money, because the state doesn’t give them as much money to give.

While I hope our visits (I was joined by literary leaders—and NCWN members—Carrie Knowles, Robin Miura, and Lynn York) had some effect, I know that even the most sociable visit from me won’t have nearly as much effect as a simple e-mail or phone call from you—the voters who have the power to send them back, or send them home, when they come up for re-election.

Please take a few minutes today to contact your elected officials in the House and Senate, and let them know how important state funding for the North Carolina Arts Council is to you.

You can find your representatives, and their contact information, here: http://www.ncleg.net/representation/WhoRepresentsMe.aspx.

Be sure to contact them at their legislative phone number or e-mail address, as they are in session now and will craft a budget soon.

Tell them your own story. Tell them how the arts have made your life, your community, better.

Remind them that the $7.1 million the state gives to the Arts Council fuels a nonprofit arts and culture industry that generates $1.24 billion (with a ‘b’) for North Carolina.

Point out to them that more cuts to arts funding won’t fix the state’s budget, but more cuts will most certainly damage the state, its people, and its quality of life.

Let them know, if they don’t already, that North Carolina is “The Writingest State,” and we intend to keep it that way for a long, long time to come.

* Before anyone quibbles that we raised the costs for the Squire Summer Writing Residency in 2011, keep in mind that we also raised its duration from three days to four. The workshop-to-fee ratio stayed the same.