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Poetry in the Prisons

Ellen Bass

The North Carolina Writers’ Network facilitates the Prison Writers Outreach program, which pairs incarcerated writers with volunteers who work together on exploring the possibilities offered by creative writing: memoir, short or long fiction, poetry, plays, and more.

There’s a tremendous amount of intererst in this program, and there’s a wait-list for incarcerated writers waiting for someone to correspond with. So if you’re interested in serving as a volunteer, check out the full guidelines here.

Poet Ellen Bass recently announced through social media that Copper Canyon Press, an indie publisher of poetry based in Washington state, will send books to prison poetry programs across the nation.

If you know of or are part of a program that might benefit, click here to submit a request form.

Copper Canyon Press published Sight Lines by Arthur Sze, winner of the 2019 National Book Award, as well as many renowned poets such as John Balaban, Jericho Brown, and C.D. Wright.

Ellen Bass’ forthcoming book, Indigo, will be published in early 2020 by Copper Canyon Press. Her other poetry books include Like a Beggar, The Human Line, and Mules of Love. Her poems appear frequently in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, and many other journals.

Join Us at 2020 African-American Cultural Celebration

The 19th annual African-American Cultural Celebration happens Saturday, January 25, 10:30 am – 4:30 pm, at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh.

The North Carolina Writers’ Network is a proud sponsor, and we’ll have an exhibit table, so please be sure to take a moment and come and say hello!

This free event features musicians, storytellers, dancers, chefs, historians, playwrights, authors, artists, reenactors, and more.

The North Carolina Association of Black Storytellers will offer vignettes from 12:30-1:30 pm on the Auditorium Stage.

The Demonstration Gallery, sponsored in part by the North Carolina Writers’ Network, will feature award-winning poet Tyree Daye; Kelly Starling Lyons, author of Sing a Song and Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Phil Freelon; author Eleanora E. Tate; and Kwame Mbalia, author of The New York Times bestseller Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky; among others.

Additional programming includes an opening procession by the Tryon Palace Jonkonnu Drummers; celebrations of sports, games, heritage, and education; and a “Food, Health, and Beauty” area hosted by Bridgette A. Lacy, author and longtime columnist for The News  & Observer in Raleigh, which will feature stylists, restaurant owners, and farmers throughout the day.

For the complete schedule of the 19th annual African-American Cultural Celebration, click here.

For details on parking and more, click here.

See you in Raleigh–use #AACC2020!

Tamara Kissane Is 2020 Piedmont Laureate

From our friends at Raleigh Arts:

2020 Laureate Tamara Kissane

Tamara Kissane, a Durham-based dramatist and audio fiction writer, has been selected as the region’s 2020 Piedmont Laureate. During 2020, Kissane will appear at workshops, reading programs, and speaking engagements throughout Wake, Durham, and Orange counties.

The Piedmont Laureate program is dedicated to building a literary bridge for residents to come together and celebrate the art of writing. Co-sponsored by the City of Raleigh Arts Commission, Durham Arts Council, Orange County Arts Commission, and United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County, the Piedmont Laureate program’s mission is to “promote awareness and heighten appreciation for excellence in the literary arts throughout the Piedmont region.”

The program focuses on a different literary form each year, including poetry, novels, creative non-fiction, drama/screenwriting, children’s literature, short fiction, speculative fiction, and mystery fiction.

“Tamara Kissane is a flexible artist who wears many hats – actor, director, theatre producer – but it is quite clear that writing is her true artistic gift and calling,” says NC State University Theatre Production Director Rachel Klem. “Her true super-power lies in her use of rhythm. She is masterful in creating theatre that is dramatic and immersive as well as an exceptional experience for the listener.”

As Piedmont Laureate, Kissane will receive an honorarium and serve until Dec. 31. Her duties will include presenting public readings and workshops, participating at select public functions, and creating at least one original activity to expand appreciation of the work of dramatists in literature.

A schedule of the Laureate’s 2020 activities will be posted on the sponsoring agency websites and on the Piedmont Laureate website.

Tamara Kissane has been a playwright in Durham since 2002. Her stage plays have been produced by both hands theatre company, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and Women’s Theatre Festival. Her stage plays, The New Colossus and Master Builder were commissioned and performed by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern in 2016 and 2018. She is the host of Artist Soapbox, a weekly podcast featuring original audio fiction and interviews with Triangle/NC artists about their creative process. She has worked with University Theatre at NC State, Manbites Dog Theater, The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, Duke Theatre Studies, Transactors Improv, Summer Sisters, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, Archipelago, and both hands theatre company.

“I hope the 2020 Piedmont Laureate programming deepens the appreciation of emerging and established playwrights in our community, as well as offering inspiration and encouragement to new writers,” says Kissane. “I am passionate about the talent in this community and sharing our regional voices with the broader world.”

Kissane will be officially recognized as the 2020 Piedmont Laureate at the State of Arts and Culture in Wake County, at the North Carolina Museum of History on January 29, 2020 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

Raleigh Arts supports and promotes the arts in Raleigh by administering the programs of the City of Raleigh Arts Commission and the City’s Public Art and Design Board, and supporting the Pullen and Sertoma arts centers. Raleigh Arts is part of the City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department.

Name Change Means Focus on Storytelling for “New” W-S Museum

From our friends at MUSE Winston-Salem:

We have some very special news to share with you today. We have a NEW NAME and a NEW HOME!

Today, New Winston Museum becomes MUSE Winston-Salem. And in about two weeks, we’ll be moving to our new home at 226 South Liberty Street. With a new name comes a new visual identity, which you can see represented here, and a new website:!

In the coming days and weeks, there will be much more news to share about the future of MUSE Winston-Salem, but for starters, let us answer a couple questions:

“Why ‘MUSE Winston-Salem’?”

We love our new name for a few reasons. First, “MUSE” is short for “museum.” It’s also an acronym for Museum of Understanding, Storytelling, and Engagement. We know that’s a lot of words—and we probably won’t say it out loud that much—but it perfectly expresses our mission “to connect, enrich, and enlarge the community through history, storytelling, and informed, balanced perspective that leads to acceptance, understanding, and belonging.”

We also like the word “MUSE” for its ancient historical associations with inspiration, playfulness, and reflective learning. Those are qualities we want to bring to everything we do, and to you, our community.

Finally, we love having the full name of our favorite city—WINSTON-SALEM—incorporated into our name and visual identity. After all, that’s the city whose stories we are devoted to telling.

“Where is MUSE Winston-Salem?”

Starting in February, our offices and staff will be found on the 1st floor of 226 South Liberty Street. That’s immediately south of the soon-to-be-reopened Salem Parkway (a.k.a. Business 40), right where a new pedestrian bridge will soon connect the beautiful Strollway that stretches from 4th Street, past Old Salem, almost all the way to UNCSA.

Following a renovation, we will re-open to the public in 2021 with multiple galleries for changing exhibits, interactive AR/VR technology, hands-on activities, an oral history recording studio, and flexible space suited for lectures, events, and performances, as well as for hosting school groups and sharing with other community organizations.

The building sits on city-owned land that was the historic homestead of skilled African-American potter Peter Oliver, a formerly enslaved man who secured his freedom and lived the remainder of his life there in the early 19th century. We are looking forward to helping the bigger community effort to shine new light on the Oliver legacy.

We are so happy to share this news with you, and look forward to carrying forward the founding ideals of New Winston Museum and its visionary patron, the late Frank Borden Hanes, Sr. Very soon, we’ll be letting you know about opportunities to get a sneak preview inside our new building, which we’ll be activating in some pretty neat ways even before we start renovations.

Thanks for reading! And thanks for supporting us through these changes. We’re just getting started!


ZenGarden.Club Seeks Writing Contest Judges offers photography, haiku, fiction, and much more about gardens and gardeners, online, with some content free to subscribers and bonus content available to members.

They also host seasonal contests where writers are asked to respond to a photograph and a haiku prompt. For example, their current contest, open for submissions through January 22, offers a photograph of a crocus and a haiku written by one of the Club’s talented members. Writers may submit pieces of flash fiction, and the Grand Prize Winner, as well as the public’s three favorite pieces, will be published.

Now that contests are occurring more frequently and receiving more entries, they’re looking for additional judges.


  • Read approximately 40 stories that have been shortlisted by staff. Each story is 350 words or less.
  • Select a “short-short list” of eight or so of their favorites from the forrty.
  • Select one Grand Winner and write a short paragraph about why that story stood out from the rest currently gets over 10,000 visits per month, writers and avid readers. They create a special page for each of their judges, or link to their own website, to introduce them to the writers. Each judge becomes very well-known on the site, and each is invited to publish in the upcoming Kindle e-books.

Judges also receive Amazon gift cards as gifts.

Interested? Fill out the form found here.

For more information, visit:

Chapel Hill Native Wins 7th Annual Crook’s Corner Book Prize

From our friends at Crook’s Corner Book Prize:

Devi S. Laskar

CHAPEL HILL—Devi S. Laskar’s The Atlas of Reds and Blues, published by Counterpoint Press, is the winner of the seventh annual Crook’s Corner Book Prize for best debut novel set in the American South.

This year’s judge was National Book Award-winning author Charles Frazier, who says, “I loved the very focused and concise ideas and dramatic situation, the efficient and effective structure, the strong and precise language.”

The Atlas of Reds and Blues grapples with the complexities of second-generation American life. Inspired by the author’s own terrifying experience of a mistaken police raid on her home, Devi S. Laskar’s debut novel explores, in spare and powerful prose, the ways in which racism permeates and pollutes the American dream. As the protagonist, known only as Mother, lies bleeding from a police gunshot wound in her Atlanta driveway, she revisits, in a time-bending mind-flash, her life as the successful child of immigrants from India, wife of a successful white businessman, and mother of three daughters.

Devi S. Laskar is a native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She holds an MFA from Columbia University in New York, an MA in South Asian Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a BA in journalism and English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and is an alumna of The OpEd Project and VONA. The Atlas of Reds and Blues is her first novel. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Crook’s Corner Book Prize, established as a collaboration between the iconic Southern restaurant, Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the Crook’s Corner Book Prize Foundation, was inspired by the prestigious book awards long given by famous “literary cafés” in Paris.

Submissions are now open for next year’s Prize. For details, visit

Orison Books Launches Kickstarter Campaign

From our friends at Orison Books: 

Orison Books, an Asheville-based non-profit literary press, has launched a Kickstarter fundraiser for its list of 2020 titles, which includes The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit, edited by Lee Herrick and Leah Silvieus; Arsenal with Praise Song, poems by Rodney Gómez; Side by Side but Never Face to Face, a novella and stories by Maggie Kast; Obscura, poems by Frank Paino; and A Sense of the Whole, stories by Siamak Vossoughi.

The fundraiser will run through January 27.

Orison Books is a volunteer-run non-profit publisher with a focus on books that engage the life of the spirit from a broad and inclusive range of perspectives.

You can find more information about Orison Books’ Kickstarter campaign at

**Editor’s Note: Luke Hankins, founder and editor of Orison Books, has taught many classes for the Network over the years, and Orison Books has exhibited at past Fall Conferences. Learn more:**

Charleston Public Library Leading Boycott of Major Publisher

Following up on our October post about the new eight-week embargo on library e-books imposed by Macmillan….

The Charleston County Public Library in Charleston, SC, is leading the charge, as 60 percent of libraries across the country boycott Macmillan entirely, including twenty-two in South Carolina.

“We ask our patrons to be patient and understand that we are operating in their best interest,” CCPL Executive Director Angela Craig said. “We believe a short-lived inconvenience is worth a potential long-term gain. This embargo by Macmillan sets a dangerous precedent, which could result in influencing other publishers and we must take a stand now before it’s too late.”

For the news story, including video of a Channel 5 WCSC report, click here.

A petition, #eBooksforAll, has been circulating, and has so far accumulated nearly 240,000 signatures.

Libraries feel the embargo, which allows them to only purchase one copy of an e-book in the first eight weeks after a book’s publication, is unfair to their patrons, extending wait times and hinderirng services. Libraries fear too that this embargo could set a precedent for the other “Big 5” publishers to follow suit.

A page on the Charleston County Public Library website does a great job of addressing the issues and includes FAQs.

Elizabeth Spencer, RIP

(L to R) Reynolds Price, Elizabeth Spencer, and James Applewhite in 2002, at the NC Literary Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, Southern Pines

News can travel slowly around the holidays, so we wanted to belatedly share that beloved novelist Elizabeth Spencer passed away shortly before Christmas. She was 98.

A 2002 inductee of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, Ms. Spencer’s most famous work was the novella The Light in the Piazza, a finalist for the National Book Award, which was adapted for the stage by Craig Lucas and composer Adam Guettel, winning six Tony Awards. The 1962 film version starred Olivia de Havilland.

According to her obituary in The New York Times:

Ms. Spencer’s 1956 novel, The Voice at the Back Door, uses a campaign for sheriff in a fictional Mississippi county to examine racial conflicts, corruption and the lives of men fulfilling violent traditions, elderly women living in the past and people overwhelmed by life’s complexities. The book was unanimously chosen by a Pulitzer Prize jury, but the governing committee chose to give no prize for fiction in 1957. Some critics have said that Ms. Spencer’s candor about virulent segregationist racism was the reason.

Ms. Spencer wrote nine novels, seven story collections, a memoir, and a play. She was a Guggenheim Fellow and was awarded the Cleanth Brooks Medal by the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and the North Carolina Award for Literature, the state’s highest civilian honor.

Next year the non-profit Library of America, responsible for preserving essential national texts by the likes of Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, will add Elizabeth Spencer to its pantheon.

Her last book, the collection of short stories Starting Over, was published in 2014. One of the stories in this book, “On the Hill,” was called “one of the best stories I’ve ever read” by Malcolm Jones in The New York Times Book Review.

Born in Carrrolton, Mississippi, in 1921, Ms. Spencer moved to Chapel Hill in 1986, where she served as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Writer-in-Residence.

Funeral services are set for Saturday, Februrary 1, at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill.

SIBA Announces Winter OKRA Picks

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance has announced their 2020 Winter OkraPicks, their seasonal list of great forthcoming Southern books.

The list of thirteen books includes three by authors with strong ties to North Carolina.

In Diane Chamberlain’s Big Lies in a Small Town (St. Martin’s Press), a convict serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center restores a mural in a sleepy, Southern town and in the process confronts her own demons while rervealing an old story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.




Therese Anne Fowler’s A Good Neighborhood (St. Martin’s Press) is a provocative contemporary novel that examines the American dream through the lens of two families living side by side in an idyllic neighborhood, and the one summer that changes their lives irrevocably.





Also on the list is David Zucchino’s Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy (Atlantic Monthly Press), a searing account of the Wilmington riot and coup of 1898, an extraordinary event unknown to most Americans. Zucchino graduated from UNCW.





For the complete list of 2020 Winter Okra picks, click here.

Okra Picks are a dozen fresh titles chosen each season that SIBA Indie Bookstores want to handsell. These books should be southern in nature but can cover any genre, not just fiction. Southern readers love their writers, and we want to be at the forefront of bringing them a strong selection of Southern titles not to be missed each season.

The Okra Picks program demonstrates the important role of independent booksellers in creating early buzz for a book, and creating the momentum that can make a book a success. They are an early spotlight on books that are likely to “go national.” On any given week an Okra Pick title can be found on the Southern Independent Bestseller List, and they show up at the end of the year when “Best of the Year” lists start to be published. They go on to be popular gifts during the holidays, and book club picks when they are released in paperback.

For more information about the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, click here.