NC Literary Hall of Fame












Barefoot to Avalon: a Brother's Story by David Payne

Grove Atlantic Press
$26.00, hardcover / $12.99, e-book
ISBN: 978-0-802123541
August, 2015
Available from your local bookstore or

"There's a novelistic intensity to the story, with Payne dwelling on vivid recollected scenes, recreating their atmospherics and teasing out every buried emotional tremor and element of foreshadowing, but his prose also has the rawness of a confessional... Writing with a mixture of clear-eyed realism and lyrical elegy, Payne shows how a family's pain, resentment, and loss get transmuted into love."
Publishers Weekly

"A major achievement and a whole new standard for memoir—Barefoot to Avalon is brave and brilliant, deep and true. Payne has tried to get the whole universe on the head of a pin, and done a fine job of it."
——Lee Smith, Guests on Earth

"Barefoot to Avalon is one of the most powerful and penetrating memoirs I’ve ever read; it is fiercely honest, deeply engaging, and utterly heartbreaking."
——Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City

“A defining voice for his generation…Payne is extraordinarily gifted."
Boston Globe

"I begin with what may seem a bold observation: David Payne is the most gifted American novelist of his generation.”"
——The Dallas Morning News

In 2000, while moving his household from Vermont to North Carolina, author David Payne watched from his rearview mirror as his younger brother, George A., driving behind him in a two-man convoy of rental trucks, lost control of his vehicle, fishtailed, and flipped over in the road. David’s life hit a downward spiral. From a cocktail hour indulgence, his drinking became a full-blown addiction. His career entered a standstill. His marriage disintegrated. He found himself haunted not only by George A.’s death, but also by his brother’s manic depression, a condition that overlaid a dark family history of mental illness, alcoholism, and suicide, an inherited past that now threatened David’s and his children’s futures. The only way out, he found, was to write about his brother.

Barefoot to Avalon is Payne’s earnest and unflinching account of George A. and their boyhood footrace that lasted long into their adulthood, defining their relationship and their lives. As universal as it is intimate, this is an exceptional memoir of brotherhood, of sibling rivalries and sibling love, and of the torments a family can hold silent and carry across generations. Barefoot to Avalon is a brave and beautifully wrought gift, a true story of survival in the face of adversity.

David Payne is the New York Times Notable author of five novels and a memoir, Barefoot to Avalon, which Jay McInerney calls, "one of the most powerful and penetrating memoirs I’ve ever read; it is fiercely honest, deeply engaging, and utterly heartbreaking."

Payne was born in Chapel Hill and grew up in Henderson, North Carolina, a small tobacco town on the fall line between the Piedmont and the coastal plain. He attended the Phillips Exeter Academy and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he graduated from with highest honors in creative writing.

After college, Payne worked as a cabinet maker and commercial fisherman while completing his first novel. Published in 1984, Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street received the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award, became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and was translated into several European languages.

Between 1985 and 2000, Payne lived in Manhattan and Vermont, where he wrote and published Early from the Dance, Ruin Creek, and Gravesend Light. In 2000, he moved to Hillsborough, NC, where he completed Back to Wando Passo. Of this novel—Payne’s fifth—Pat Conroy wrote: "Back to Wando Passo quivers with authentic life and is so bold in concept and audacious in scope that it seems like the summing up and exclamation point of a great writer’s career. The novel contains everything."

Payne has written for Libération, The Washington Post, The Oxford American, and other publications and has taught at Bennington, Duke, and Hollins. He is a founding faculty member in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Queens University of Charlotte. He lives in Hillsborough with his family.

His website is:

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