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Margaret Maron, RIP

“I knew from childhood that I wanted to write,” said Margaret Maron in her acceptance speech to the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, in 2016, “and I felt that I had a facility for words, but I also felt that I had nothing to say. It was the mystery form that gave me freedom to write and it was the form that later gave me the freedom to speak out on issues that were important to me as a citizen of North Carolina.”

Margaret Maron passed away this week at the age of 82. While her fiction “changed the landscape of the mystery genre—moving it away from the mean streets of urban America to the main streets of the country’s small towns,” she also was a generous person who believed in community and championed new writers.

“Along with her writing skills, Margaret was graced with a green thumb and culinary prowess that she liked to share,” writes Sarah Goddin, former General Manager of Quail Ridge Books. “She and her husband Joe were known to generously drop bags of pears and blueberries by the store when they had a bumper crop.”

Margaret is best-known for her Deborah Knott mystery series, which, by featuring a “young woman with one foot in the agrarian past and one foot in the urban present,” explored women’s changing roles in Southern society. Through her fiction, she tackled issues such as changing attitudes toward sexuality; race relations; and the environment.

“We’ve watched our part of the state move from mostly farmers to mostly commuters,” Margaret said, “and we’ve used our words to document those changes‐to celebrate the good, to spotlight the bad, and yes, to mourn for some of the losses.”

Winner of several major American awards for mysteries (Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Macavity), her works are on the reading lists of various courses in contemporary Southern literature and have been translated into sixteen languages. In 2004, she received the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for best North Carolina novel of the year. In 2008, she was honored with the North Carolina Award for Literature, the state’s highest civilian honor. In 2013, she was named a Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America for lifetime achievement. She has served as president of Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the country’s leading organization devoted to mystery writers and the success of the genre, and perhaps more importantly as both a founding member and a former president of Sisters in Crime, dedicated to encouraging and promoting women crime writers.

Just last week, the NC Literary Map, NC Literary Review, and NC Writers’ Network hosted the NC Quarantine Literary Tour, which offered readings about fictional NC locales by inductees of the NC Literary Hall of Fame. Cindy Brookshire—a Johnston County writer, just like Margaret—read about Margaret’s fictional Colleton County, where her Deborah Knott mystery series takes place. There might be no better way to honor this fine writer, whose genuine interest in people, sharp eye for detail, and passion for justice transcended genre, than to reflect on the way she wrote about the place she lived almost her entire life.

To hear Cindy Brookshire read about Margaret Maron’s Colleton County, click here (Cindy’s reading begins at the 20-minute mark).