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Four Books for Black History Month

Reprinting this column verbatim, from D.G. Martin in Chapel Hill News:

What are you doing to commemorate Black History Month?

You might read a book, one that you might not otherwise consider. I have a few suggestions. These might not have a heavy black history label. But each offers an enriched understanding of our past as a part of a history that we share, not one that sets races and people apart.

In The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region, Marcie Cohen Ferris chronicles some of the happy features of our food history and culture. She shows how the African food traditions of enslaved people mingled in the slave owners’ kitchens with European cooking styles to bring about some of the southern dishes that we share today. But, she reminds, the story of food “is not a ‘moonlight and magnolias’ banquet of tempting culinary delights, but rather, a narrative about contested forces that have shaped southern foodways for over five centuries. This is not a pretty or an easy story.”

The recent success of African American author Jason Mott is being celebrated by everybody in his native Columbus County. This is the same county where, as some remember, the Tabor City and Whiteville newspapers shared a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1954 for their efforts fighting the powerful Ku Klux Klan.

Mott’s first novel, The Returned, became the basis of an ABC television series, Resurrection, which completed its second thirteen-week series on January 25. While both The Returned and his second book, The Wonder of All Things, deal with human prejudices and exploitation, these themes are not race-based. His characters have different racial backgrounds, but other things divide them and bring them together.

Mott’s cheerful accessibility and modesty have already helped make him a popular North Carolina figure in the world of books. His post-racial literary point of view could make him a significant figure in future versions of black history.

Most North Carolina basketball fans remember legendary coach Lefty Driesell as the exuberant coach whose Maryland teams challenged the ACC dominance of their favorite Tobacco Road teams, Carolina, State, Duke, and Wake Forest, in the 1970s and early 1980s. Others, like this former player, assert that Driesell’s greatest achievement was building a national powerhouse team at Davidson College during the 1960s. A former Carolina basketball star told me his achievement at Davidson puts him in the top ranks of college coaches.

In his new biography, Charles ‘Lefty’ Driesell: A Basketball Legend, Martin Harmon shows that beginning in the 1960s Driesell, first at Davidson and then at Maryland, led the way in recruiting black athletes to play on previously segregated southern college teams. The magnificent contributions of black athletes in pushing open the doors of opportunity in other areas will someday be recognized as an important part of black history.

Finally, during the year of what would have marked his 100th birthday, all North Carolinians should remember John Hope Franklin and his last book, an autobiography, Mirror to America. It was published ten years ago, not long before his death at 94 on March 25, 2009. No one, of whatever color, can read his story of struggle in the face of racism and his ultimate triumph and not come away with a better understanding of what he and every other African American had to endure in those times.

From the grave, Franklin enjoins us never to forget.

Especially not during Black History Month.

These books will be featured on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch during February:

• Marcie Ferris The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region (Feb. 5 at 5 p.m.)

• Jason Mott The Wonder of All Things (Feb 8, Feb. 12 at 5 p.m.)

• Martin Harmon, Charles ‘Lefty’ Driesell: A Basketball Legend (Feb 15, Feb. 19 at 5 p.m.)

• John Hope Franklin, Mirror to America (Feb. 26 at 5 p.m.)

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Poet Laureate Ceremony

Shelby Stephenson (left) and Joseph Bathanti (right).

Shelby Stephenson (left) and Joseph Bathanti (right).

The North Carolina Arts Council shared this excellent photo with us, so we wanted to share it with you. This, of course, is North Carolina’s current poet laureate, Shelby Stephenson, sharing a laugh with North Carolina’s most recent poet laureate, Joseph Bathanti.

Shelby was installed last night in a ceremony at the state capitol.

CAPTCHA, and Why

imageI know, I know. We’re not the biggest fans either. But after a particularly grueling month where we’ve been bombarded with spam registrations, donations, and the like, we’ve gone ahead and added a CAPTCHA feature to our website’s payment processing pages.

This means whenever you purchase something on our website, whether you’re making a donation or registering for a conference, you’ll see something like the box to the right. Then you’ll be prompted to enter the letter/number combination before proceeding with your payment.

CAPTCHA just wants you to prove you’re a human, and not a robot intent on spreading his or her robot spam across the globe… or at least across North Carolina. It’s a necessary evil at this point, and we appreciate your being patient with it. The nice thing is, if you can’t read the first image displayed, you can change it until the program offers you one you can actually read.

So, thanks for taking this extra step. It protects us from spammers and the like, and lets us focus on offering you top-notch programming, instead of cleaning out false registrations from our queue.

NC Poet Laureate Induction Ceremony

Benson poet Shelby Stephenson will be installed as North Carolina’s eighth poet laureate on:

Tuesday, February 3, Monday, February 2, 5:30 pm
North Carolina State Capitol
House of Representatives Chamber
One Edenton Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
(Please enter the East Door and the security check to the House Chamber)

Reception to follow in the Rotunda.

This ceremony is free and open to the public, but please RSVP to, by January 29.

For accessibility assistance call 919-807-6501.

Parking is available in the Visitor Parking lot bounded by Wilmington, Jones, Blount and Edenton streets. Metered parking available along Jones Street.

Deck parking is available off South Wilmington Street.

Shelby Stephenson lives on the small farm where he was born near Benson, in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina. “Most of my poems come out of that background,” he says, “where memory and imagination play on one another.”

Educated at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, and served as editor of the international literary journal Pembroke Magazine from 1979 until his retirement in 2010. His awards include the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Memorial Award, North Carolina Network Chapbook Prize, Bright Hill Press Chapbook Award, and the Brockman-Campbell Poetry Prize.

He has published a poetic documentary Plankhouse (with photographs by Roger Manley), plus ten chapbooks, most recently Steal Away (Jacar Press), and Press 53 recently re-released his celebrated collection, Fiddledeedee. Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize and the 2009 Oscar Arnold Young Award. The state of North Carolina presented Shelby with the 2001 North Carolina Award in Literature, and in 2014 he was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.

The North Carolina poet laureate serves as an ambassador of the state’s literature, using the office as a platform to promote both the written word and North Carolina writers.

Your Book Is Why Daddy Drinks

Most review outlets like to post positive reviews. Readers like positive reviews, and, the thinking goes, authors have a hard enough time without some review outlet slamming their book—even if it’s well-deserved. So we may see a bad review in the New York Times, or on Kirkus, but it’s rare.

Enter Tyler King and Matt Marovich, co-hosts of the podcast Your Book Is Why Daddy Drinks. While they will occasionally recommend books they actually like, for the most part, each podcast features a riotous take-down of books that are, simply put, ridiculous.

A couple disclaimers: we’d rate this podcast an R for language, so we can’t vouch that any episode is either work-safe or child-appropriate. Second, this is what you’d call a “grassroots” podcast, meaning some of the production values aren’t as polished as you might find on better funded sites, such as NPR. (Of course, there are those that might say NPR is too polished…)

With that out of the way, why not give it a listen? Sometimes, it’s good to laugh at this stuff, even if we consider ourselves serious writers. Maybe especially if we consider ourselves serious writers. And hey, sometimes the hosts even sober up enough to raise some money for a good cause.

From a review of the fourth-worst rated book on Amazon to a review of a novel featuring an inter-species relationship, it’s all here. Enjoy.

On the Condition of Anonymity

Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of The New York Times, has been tracking the (over)use of anonymous sources in her newspaper, in hopes of “discouraging a practice that readers rightly object to.” While the citing of anonymous sources shows no sign of slowing down, writer Matt Gross had a little fun in a column he wrote for the Daily Intelligencer in  New York Magazine.

As you’ll see, it’s basically impossible to pull a quote from his poetic creation, so… just read it.


Young Scholars Publish Book on John Hope Franklin

HopeCelebrated historian John Hope Franklin was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1998. Now, thirty students from Duke University’s John Hope Franklin Young Scholars Program have self-published an unusual book that weaves illustrated scenes from Franklin’s life with the story of a fifteen-year-old boy who gets into trouble and recovers by connecting with the prolific author.

From the blurb:

Kendrick Parker isn’t quite sure what’s going on with his life. He doesn’t know if the girl he is interested in really likes him back and his best friend is having troubles of her own. More importantly, his parents are keeping him up at night with their yelling. It’s getting harder and harder to get to school on time, something his history and track coach, Mr. Douglass notices. Hoping to inspire Kendrick, Mr. Douglass hands him a copy of the graphic novel version of Mirror to America, renowned historian John Hope Franklin’s autobiography. Little does he realize how much it will encourage him to take action.

The John Hope Franklin Young Scholars Program, part of Duke’s Center for African and African-American Research, introduces high-potential middle schoolers—mostly members of under-represented minorities—to university research, paving their path toward college. Past projects have included researching the background of scarf joints in the barn at the Stagville Plantation in Durham; learning about the Great Migration through travels to Greensboro and Wilmington; and next year, creating a documentary about the little-known Civil Rights movement in NC during the Civil War.

John Hope Franklin’s literary landmark, From Slavery to Freedom, is now in its ninth edition and has been translated into five languages, with more than three million copies sold. This book, more than any other, has reshaped the way African-American history is understood and taught.

“My challenge,” he said, “was to weave into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly.”

Running For Hope: A novel by the John Hope Franklin Young Scholars with illustrations from the autobiography of John Hope Franklin, is available through some local bookstores or

SIBA Announces 2015 Winter Okra Picks

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance has announced their 2015 Winter Okra Picks:

All the chosen books have a strong Southern focus and are published between January and March, 2015, and all of them have fans among Southern indie booksellers; people who are always looking out for the next great writer who should be on your plate and in your TBR stack.

Here they are, the 2015 Winter Okra Picks:

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Chris Scotton (Grand Central Publishing)

Hall of Small Mammals: Stories by Thomas Pierce (Riverhead Books)

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm (Viking Books)

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass (Candlewick Press)

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell (Maiden Lane Press)

My Sunshine Away by M O Walsh (Putnam Adult)

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson (William Morrow & Company)

Sisters of Shiloh by Becky and Kathy Hepinstall (Houghton Mifflin)

Mosquitoland by David Arnold (Viking Children’s Books)

A Season of Fear by Brian Freeman (Quercus)

Soil by Jamie Kornegay (Simon & Schuster)

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow Books)

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance is a trade alliance for privately-held, brick and mortar, commercially zoned, retail indie bookstores in the South.

Claudia Emerson, RIP

Claudia Emerson

Claudia Emerson

Claudia Emerson—Pulitzer Prize winner, former poet laureate of Virginia, and graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro—died last week in Richmond. She was 57.

From the Washington Post:

Ms. Emerson’s works were published widely, including in the New Yorker magazine and in journals including Poetry, Southern Review, Ploughshares, and Shenandoah. She traced her artistic roots to the literary tradition of her native South. “Even though I’ve never owned an inch of land in my life,” she observed, “I feel very much tied to it.”

Claudia Emerson was born Jan. 13, 1957, in Chatham, Va. Her father, whose family had farmed for generations, ran a store in town.

Emerson published five poetry collections through Louisiana State University Press: Pharaoh, Pharaoh (1997), Pinion: An Elegy (2002), Late Wife (2005), Figure Studies: Poems (2008), and Secure the Shadow (2012). A sixth collection, titled The Opposite House, will be released posthumously in March, 2015.

She was the former poetry editor of the Greensboro Review and contributing editor to Shenandoah. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2006; an NEA Fellowship in 1994; a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2011; and was elected to the Southern Fellowship of Writers in 2011.

Click here to visit her website.

Here is her poem “Animal Funerals, 1964.”

That summer, we did not simply walk through
the valley of the shadow of death; we set up camp there,

orchestrating funerals for the anonymous,
found dead: a drowned mole—its small, naked palms

still pink—a crushed box turtle, green snake, even
a lowly toad. The last and most elaborate

of the burials was for a common jay,
identifiable but light and dry,

its eyes vacant orbits. We built a delicate
lichgate of willow fronds, supple, green—laced

through with chains of clover. Straggling congregation,
we recited what we could of the psalm

about green pastures as we lowered the shoebox
and its wilted pall of dandelions into the shallow

grave one of us had dug with a serving spoon.
That afternoon, just before September and school,

when we would again become children, and blind
to all but the blackboard’s chalky lessons, the back

of someone’s head, and what was, for a while longer,
the rarer, human death—there, in the heat-shimmered

trees, in the matted grasses where we stood,
even in the slant of humid shade—

we heard wingbeat, slither, buzz, and birdsong—
a green racket rising to fall as though

in a joyous dirge that was real,
and not part of our many, necessary rehearsals

2015 Manly Wade Wellman Award

Manly Wade Wellman

Manly Wade Wellman

The North Carolina Speculative Fiction Foundation (NCSFF) has announced the preliminary eligibility list for the 2015 Manly Wade Wellman Award. Seventy-nine novels written in 2014 are eligible.

The Manly Wade Wellman Award honors outstanding achievement in science fiction and fantasy in novels written by North Carolina authors, defined as writers who have made their primary residence in North Carolina for six months out of the twelve months preceding publication. In the case of a novel with more than one author, half or more of the listed authors must be North Carolina authors. The novel may be published or self-published, available electronically, in print, and/or in audiobook format.

To view the complete preliminary eligibility list, click here.

The yearly lifecycle of The Manly Wade Wellman Award is as follows:

  • in December, a preliminary list of eligible novels is published and publicized along with a solicitation for additions and corrections
  • at illogiCon in mid-January, nominations will open based on the list of eligible novels as well as write-in options; nominations will close and the list of finalists announced in March (at StellarCon, when held)
  • at ConCarolinas in late May, final voting will open; final voting will close at ConTemporal in late June
  • at ConGregate in mid-July, the winner(s) will be announced, and (anonymous) voting data will be published

A versatile, award-winning writer in many genres, Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986) was born in Angola, West Africa. Although his work has been called “science fiction,” he successfully blended his varied interests to create a genre now referred to as speculative fiction. His fascination with Appalachian history and folklore form the basis for his fantastic Silver John series, which features a virtuous folk-ballad-singing young hero who battles supernatural forces of evil in the North Carolina mountains, defending the innocent and timid. Wellman’s numerous works of speculative fiction also include a Martian murder mystery, tales of loathsome alien invaders, and Twice in Time, the story of a man who falls into the fifteenth century and becomes Leonardo da Vinci.

Wellman was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame with the inaugural class of 1996.

The North Carolina Speculative Fiction Foundation (NCSFF) was founded in December 2013 to promote the writing and reading of speculative fiction in North Carolina and to recognize outstanding achievements in North Carolina science fiction and fantasy. The first and currently only project administrated by the NCSFF is The Manly Wade Wellman Award. Their website is