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Dark Miracles of Chance

Jan Hensley

Greensboro resident Jan Hensley just donated his book collection to the Z. Smith Reynolds Library’s Special Collections and Archives at Wake Forest University. And what a collection: more than 10,000 books, including “autographed copies and first editions, and upward of 50,000 ephemera, including chapbooks, newspaper and magazine articles, letters, journals and personal notes of his interactions with authors.”

The majority of these are by and about North Carolina authors.

“The last half-century saw a tremendous outburst of good writing from North Carolina. Jan Hensley saw it all, too,” said Ed Southern (’94), executive director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. “What’s most significant about Jan’s collection is that he gathers all those first editions, and takes all those photos, not as an outsider or observer, but as an active participant in the literary community. He is a part of what he’s preserved.”

“Dark miracles of chance,” to quote from Thomas Wolfe, played an outsized role in Hensley’s lifelong obsession. It all began when he played the character of Luke in a theatrical adaptation of Look Homeward, Angel. This turned him onto Wolfe, whose works he began collecting. Years later, at a Eudora Welty signing, he had a major epiphany. He didn’t just want to collect books. He wanted to collect books signed by contemporary North Carolina authors. And the rest is history.

For the full article, click here.

Our Very Own Ed Southern Wins Fortner Award

Ed Southern

Ed Southern

From St. Andrews University:

St. Andrews University will present the 2015 Ethel N. Fortner Writer and Community Award to North Carolina Writers’ Network Executive Director Ed Southern on March 5.

The invitation-only presentation will be made during the weekly Writers’ Forum timeslot.

Created in 1986 to honor Ethel N. Fortner, who was a friend to writers and frequent contributor to the St. Andrews Review, the award has been given to ardent supporters of the arts in communities ranging from journalists to activists to publishers.

The 2014 award was presented to Our State magazine editor-in-chief Elizabeth Hudson.

A North Carolina native, Southern has served as the Executive Director at the North Carolina Writers’ Network since 2008. Prior to that, the Winston-Salem resident served as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for John F. Blair, Publisher.

In addition to fostering the writing community of North Carolina, Southern is a published author himself. His books include Voice of the American Revolution in the Carolinas, The Jamestown Adventure, and Parlous Angels. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from Wake Forest University in 1994.

Also on March 5, St. Andrews University will present the 2015 Sam Ragan Fine Arts Award to award winning novelist and essayist Allan Gurganus.

“Each year, we honor distinguished North Carolinians—past and present,” said Ron Bayes, distinguished professor of creative writing Emeritus. “Honorees are persons who have, over a long period, been outstanding practitioners of their art, and who have selflessly shared their talent with other creators, working in their primary genre and beyond.”

Previous recipients of the award include Governor Bob Scott, David Brinkley, Loonis McClohon, Kathryn Gurkin, Paul Jeffrey, Sally Nixon, and Sally Buckner. The 2014 award went to Grammy Award winning musician Rhiannon Giddens.

Gurganus has had his fiction translated into sixteen languages. His books include Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, White People, Plays Well with Others, The Practical Heart, and Local Souls. His essays are seen in the New York Times and the New York Review of Books. Gurganus has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Pen-Faulker Nomination, the American Academy’s Sue Kaufman Prize for best first novel, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lambda Literary Award, and the National Magazine Award.

For more information about the Writers’ Forum, creative writing or the St. Andrews Press, call 910-277-5310, email or visit the website at

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.