NC Literary Hall of Fame




The Writers' Network is proud of the 2004 inductees of the Literary Hall of Fame:

  • fiction writer Doris Betts
  • journalist Tom Wicker
  • poet James McGirt (deceased)

Like all the other inductees of this important biennial event, these writers have strong connections to North Carolina, although their reputations extend throughout the nation and beyond.

Betts, Wicker and McGirt were honored in a public ceremony at the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, NC, on Sunday, October 17, 2004 at 2 pm.

Doris Betts: 1932-
Beloved writer and teacher Doris Betts is a Statesville, North Carolina native and attended UNC-Greensboro, where she was Phi Beta Kappa. During her student days she won the Mademoiselle Magazine college fiction award and a Putnam award for her collection of short stories, The Gentle Insurrection. She is currently on the English Department faculty of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she served as Assistant Dean of the Honor Program from 1978-1981 and where she holds the title of alumni distinguished professor.

Ms. Betts has won three Sir Walter Raleigh awards, the Southern Book Award, the North Carolina Award for Literature, the John Dos Passos Prize, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Medal for the short story, among other recognitions. "The Ugliest Pilgrim," the most widely printed of her stories, was the basis of a musical that won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and later became an Academy Award winner as a short film entitled "Violet." Her Souls Raised from the Dead was on the New York Times list of top twenty best books in 1994. Among her many other acclaimed works are The Astronomer and Other Stories, Beast of the Southern Wild and Other Stories, and The Scarlet Thread.

Ms. Betts lives in Pittsboro with her husband, retired judge Lowry Betts. The Writers' Network's annual Doris Betts Fiction Prize is one more tribute to this extraordinary writer.

James McGirt: 1874-1930
James Ephraim McGirt came from rural Robeson County, North Carolina, from an African- American farm family. He is remarkable for his determination in seeking a literary career during times when this option was not available for a young black man. His stable home environment was supportive, however, and his mother especially was an influence, quoting the Bible at length, and keeping her children apart from the surrounding community. McGirt began writing while he lived and attended school in Greensboro, writing poetry and earning his bachelor's degree at Bennett College in just three years.

McGirt's first volume of poetry, Avenging the Maine, was published in 1899 by Edwards and Broughton of Raleigh. Aware of the shortcomings of his early verse, he apologized in the preface of this first book, explaining that his writing was done when he was tired from the day's work and "under very unfavorable circumstances." His later volumes of poetry were entitled, Some Simple Songs, For Your Sweet Sake, and The Triumphs of Ephraim. Moving to Philadelphia and unsatisfied with the response to his poetry, he founded McGirt's Magazine, an illlustrated monthly on art, science, literature, and other subjects. The magazine flourished for almost six years, but folded in 1909.

Although compared favorably to Charles Chesnutt, another Literary Hall of Fame inductee, McGirt finally gave up his literary career and became a successful businessman and real estate salesman. He never married, but returned to Greensboro and retained his love for writing in general and poetry in particular.

Tom Wicker: 1926-
Thomas Grey Wicker's respected talent as a journalist has taken him from his origins in Hamlet, North Carolina, to The New York Times. There he served as associate editor, former Washington bureau chief, as well as the author of the famous op-ed column "In the Nation" for thirty years. He is the author of a considerable number of acclaimed fiction and non-fiction books as well.

Wicker earned his journalism degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1948, at first wrote for papers in Aberdeen and Lumberton. He wrote for the Winston-Salem Journal for eight years and The Nashville Tennessean for two years before heading up to the Times, where he eventually retired in 1991. Wicker's famous report on the assassination of President Kennedy, written from the perspective of the motorcade following the president, has been praised as the most accurate first-hand account of the shooting. His assignment to act as an observer during the Attica Prison stand-off in New York State was described in his book A Time to Die (1975).

Wicker has also written several other works of nonfiction, ten novels, and articles in over twenty-five leading magazines. Works include Kennedy Without Tears, JFK and LBJ, One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream, and just published this year, George Herbert Walker Bush. He has also written under the penname Paul Connally. His favorite work is Unto This Hour, about the second battle of Bull Run. His numerous awards include the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame, the Sarah Josepha Hale Award, the Sacred Cat Award from the Milwaukee Press Club, and the North Carolina Award for Literature.

Although Wicker has been a popular public speaker on campuses, he considers himself to be a newspaperman first. He has been a visiting scholar at the First Amendment Center in Nashville, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. Wicker currently lives in Rochester, Vermont with his wife Pamela Hill, a television producer and VP of the Cable Network News.

The Writers' Network is proud of the 2006 inductees of the Literary Hall of Fame:

  • Gerald Barrax
  • Fred Chappell
  • Elizabeth Daniels Squire (deceased)

Gerald Barrax: 1933-
Producer Joanne Gabbin wrote "African American poetry is both furious and flowering. . . a poetry of grace and rage, of identity and struggle, combining beauty and political activism." Her description applies to the poetry of Gerald Barrax, whose work is marked by tenderness and anger, by reverie and irony, by castigation and celebration.

Born in Alabama, Gerald Barrax moved to Pittsburgh when he was ten. He served four years in the Air Force and received degrees from Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. In 1969 he joined the faculty at North Carolina Central University then moved to North Carolina State University, where he is an esteemed professor in the MFA program.

Since 1970 Barrax has published five volumes of poetry as well as work in numerous journals and anthologies. For a number of years he served as editor of Obsidian, a major contemporary journal, and as poetry editor for Callaloo.

Of African, Indian, and Dutch ancestry, Barrax has not been slow to deal with his black heritage and with the race-based injustices he has seen and/or experienced. His entry in the African American Registry reads: Gerald Barrax: a poet with humanity in mind! Marked by originality, introspection, and intellectual engagement with a wide range of subjects, his work draws from the best traditions of poetry writing. He shapes and reshapes the images, metaphors, and ideas of his poems until they satisfy his stringent requirements. His work has been honored by numerous awards, including a Ford Foundation Fellowship, the Sam Ragan Award, and the Raleigh Medal of Arts. In 2000 he was the honoree of the North Carolina Writers' Conference.

Father of five and grandfather of two, Barrax currently lives in Raleigh with his wife Joan, and continues to honor us all with his poetry.

Fred Chappell: 1936-
"An immensely gifted, exuberant, versatile writer who should be ranked among our important contemporary voices." So spoke novelist William Styron about Fred Chappell, poet, novelist, essayist, and professor. The man who inspired this ebullient tribute was born in 1936 on a farm near Canton. An avid reader, he began writing science fiction in the eighth grade, poetry in the ninth. At Duke University Chappell studied under acclaimed writing teacher William Blackburn and befriended other future literary headliners, including Reynolds Price, James Applewhite, and Anne Tyler. An editor asked if he'd be interested in writing a novel. Chappell reports, "I told him I was a poet and I wasn't really sure that fiction was a worthy endeavor." But he began writing fiction; and four novels later, Dagon won the best foreign book award from the Academie Française.

Thus began a long stellar career that has produced almost thirty volumes. Perhaps his most ambitious accomplishment has been four poetry collections paired with four novels, each based on one of the four elements -- earth, air, fire, and water -- and all reflecting Chappell's Appalachian roots as he examines the core of human experience: love, community, and mortality. In 1997, following the tenure of Sam Ragan, Chappell's remarkable versatility and skill earned him the title of North Carolina Poet Laureate.

As professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Chappell has mentored several of our state's fine poets, including Sarah Lindsay, Pulitzer-prize winner Claudia Emerson, and Kathryn Stripling Byer, who succeeded him as state Poet Laureate. His excellence in teaching was recognized by the statewide O. Max Gardner Award. Other honors include the Bollingen Prize, the T.S. Eliot Award, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. Now retired from teaching, he lives in Greensboro with his wife Susan, and continues to compose poetry, which he calls "the noblest secular endeavor that the human mind undertakes."

Elizabeth Daniels Squire: 1926-2001
Elizabeth Daniels Squire came from a noted family of letters: her grandfather, Josephus Daniels, founded and edited the Raleigh News and Observer; her father Jonathan, also an editor, authored biographies and regional studies; her sister Lucy is a novelist. So it is not surprising that Elizabeth Squire began as a journalist and married a journalist, before building her own illustrious literary niche and an enthusiastic national following for her mystery novels.

A Vassar graduate, Squire served as a columnist in Beirut and a reporter in Connecticut. When she and her husband, C.B. Squire, a New York Times correspondent, moved to a farm in Weaverville, North Carolina, she began writing mysteries, drawing for her first novel, Kill the Messenger, on her expertise in journalism. For her second, Who Killed What's-Her-Name?, Squire invented a sleuth, Peaches Dann, much like herself: a middle-aged significantly absent-minded woman who was also warm, smart, and witty. Six more Peaches Dann novels, all enlivened by humor and colorful details, were published before her creator's untimely death in 2001.

Early on, Squire authored a collection of biographical sketches of twenty-five journalists, proclaiming that journalists have profound social responsibilities -- a principle to which Squire adhered all her life. Despite the complexities of juggling career and family, she always found time to offer advice to emerging writers and support the North Carolina Writers' Network and the Southeastern Chapter of Mystery Writers. She served as a library trustee, and visited libraries and classrooms. She used her personal experience with dyslexia to inspire kids for whom reading was difficult, challenging them: "If I can become published, just think what you can do!"

Known in her home state and throughout the nation as a generous, energetic friend, Elizabeth Daniels Squire made her mark as writer, colleague, wife, mother, and citizen. She left us too soon, but her legacy will endure.

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