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Gary Carden Recipient of North Carolina’s Highest Civilian Honor

Sylva resident Gary Carden has been awarded the 2012 North Carolina Award for Literature—the highest civilian honor the state can bestow. This award recognizes Carden for his lifetime achievements as an author, storyteller, and painter.

A literature and drama teacher turned storyteller, Gary Neil Carden is an award winning playwright whose tales are informed by mountain life in North Carolina. Growing up with his grandparents in Jackson County, he heard stories at family reunions, funerals and weddings. Instructive, frightening, funny, or downright peculiar, these stories fueled several collections, including Mason Jars in a Flood, that received the Appalachian Writers Association Book of the Year prize. The tales also provided inspiration for the PBS documentary “Mountain Talk.” His play, The Prince of Dark Corners, is based on a real life outlaw and now is a PBS film.

“The first stories that I heard weren’t at a storytelling festival,” writes Gary Carden, “nor were the storytellers on a stage duded out in overalls and bandanas. When I was a child, I heard stories at family reunions, funerals, and weddings. Nobody got paid either. I remember two ‘old maid’ aunts who told stories together, one giving half a sentence and the other one finishing it. Stories were usually personal, possibly even wild stories about the deceased at a funeral, or perhaps a legendary relative.”

The North Carolina Award also honors citizens in the fields of science, fine arts, and public service. Established by the General Assembly in 1961, the first medals were awarded in 1964. Since then, more than 250 notable men and women have been honored by the state of North Carolina. Past recipients include William Friday, Romare Bearden, James Taylor, Gertrude Elion, John Hope Franklin, David Brinkley, Maya Angelou, Billy Graham, and Branford Marsalis. Ron Rash received the 2011 award for Literature.

Carden and the other winners were honored at a gala on Tuesday, October 30, at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. B. Jayant Baliga (Science), Lou Donaldson (Fine Arts), Janice H. Faulkner (Public Service), Ambassador Bonnie McElveen-Hunter (Public Service), and Thomas H. Sayre (Fine Arts) were the other winners.

Carden gives seminars and workshops in storytelling, folklore, and Appalachian and Cherokee history. He gives storytelling performances at civic clubs, schools, and special events. Among the many other awards he has received is the 2006 Brown-Hudson Award from the North Carolina Folklore Society and the 2012 North Carolina Award for Literature. Carden has an honorary doctorate from Western Carolina University for his work in storytelling and folklore.

On Sunday, November 18 at 3:00 pm, Carden will perform scenes from his plays at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, 555 E. Connecticut Ave. in Southern Pines. Advance purchase of $10 tickets is strongly recommended, as seating is limited. Tickets can also be purchased at the door. For tickets, call the Weymouth office: 910-692-6261.