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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.

Carol Moyer, Todd Ketcham Receive Nancy Olson Award

From our friends at the Southern Independent Booksellers Association:

Nancy Olson

Two Southern booksellers have been selected as the winners of the inaugural Nancy Olson Bookseller Award. Carol Moyer, bookseller and former Children’s Manager at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC, and Todd Ketcham, manager of The Book Cellar in Lake Worth, FL, will each receive a check for $2,000.

The awards, which will become an annual prize, were launched in 2019 with an anonymous donation from an author who is also an admirer of the late Nancy Olson, founder of Quail Ridge Books. The award honors booksellers who embody the spirit of Olson’s bookselling legacy of supporting writers—especially new writers—other booksellers, and community outreach.

Of winner Carol Moyer, a nominator commented:

“While Carol’s greatest satisfaction at QRB may be experiencing the joy of putting the right book in a child’s hands, there’s no doubt that her love of children and children’s books has profoundly touched the community. Her work fits perfectly with Nancy Olson’s own deep commitment to enriching lives.”

In their submission for Todd Ketcham, the owners of The Book Cellar praised:

“He is more than an employee, he is a conduit between business and community, between people and experiences. We could not run this business without him, and his devotion to books and the people around him set a shining example for all the wonderful things possible when someone can work with their passion each and every day.”

Nancy Olson’s husband, Jim Olson, served as one of the judges for the award, along with Sarah Goddin, buyer and former General Manager of Quail Ridge Books, and Linda-Marie Barrett, Assistant Executive Director of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.

Jim spoke of his gratitude that the sponsor of this award chose to honor Nancy Olson’s legacy in this way. “Nancy would have loved this. She was a champion of other bookstores and would have loved to have seen booksellers so generously rewarded and acknowledged for the work they do for their communities.”

Upon hearing she had won the award, Carol Moyer replied, “I am honored and humbled to have received this award, an award which will keep the memory of Nancy Olson in front of booksellers each year. She was a shining star in the bookselfling world, and she was my inspiration and will always have my endless admiration. That my colleagues selected me for the award this year is very deep praise and I am very grateful. Independent bookstores are a vital piece of the cultural landscape in their communities, as they provide the richness of literature in a setting where folks may gather to explore and share ideas. In that setting, it has been my joy to implement the mission of children’s bookselling to nurture the literacy of the rising generation. There is no greater reward for me than putting the right book in the hands of the right child at the right time. Over the years I have had the immense pleasure of seeing these children grow up to be readers, choosing their own books. As long as we continue to share the best books we can find with children, we will have started them on a life of reaping the rewards of reading. They will grow up treasuring books and bookstores.”

Todd Ketcham responded, “I am beyond honored to have been nominated by my colleagues and patrons. As many booksellers will tell you, we do not do this with the expectation of financial reward. To share the love of reading with our friends and patrons is reward enough. Winning the Nancy Olson Bookseller Award is both a surprise and a much-needed boon. In an era of increasing isolation, it is amazing to me that bookstores retain the oft-overlooked ability to bring people from disparate walks of life together in common purpose. If bookstores are cultural lighthouses erected in our communities, then booksellers are the lighthouse tenders that keep fanning the flames of knowledge. My only hope is that those flames keep burning bright for many a long year.”

The Nancy Olson Bookseller Award will become an annual award, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the anonymous donor.

For more about the Southern Independent Booksellers Association, click here.

Hillsborough’s Burwell School Needs Your Help

From our friends at The Burwell School Historic Site, which hosts many historical and literary programs throughout the year:

Dear friends,

The Burwell School needs your help.

For over 50 years the Burwell School Historic Site, owned and maintained by the Historic Hillsborough Commission, has been a part of our community’s heritage and a living cultural center. Perhaps you have attended our annual Spring Auctions, enjoyed one of our History Teas, or thrilled at a stargazing event on the Burwell lawn. Over the years our site has welcomed hundreds of schoolchildren and visitors from far and near and carried out important programs, bringing to life the stories of the Burwells, their girls’ academy, Elizabeth Keckly, and many others.

However, a recent event has threatened the viability of our site, and we are asking for your help. A criminal case is underway against a former employee related to a serious financial loss. As a result we have had to eliminate paid staff positions and postpone repairs and improvements to the property. Fortunately, many have stepped forward to volunteer time and financial support. Additionally, the Hillsborough Tourism Board has continued its support and voiced its confidence in the Commission. Thanks to more than 3,000 hours of donated time and effort from our members, our Burwell Volunteers, and our former Executive Director, we’ve kept the Burwell School open.

This year has been very difficult, but the rebuilding is underway — and we seek your help to keep it going.

We have a 2020 fundraising goal of $50,000 to restore our normal operations and to maintain the Burwell site. Here’s how you can help:

The Burwell School is nearing its bicentennial year, and we hope to be able to honor that milestone restored and rebuilt. As we recover we would be very grateful for your interest and support.


The Historic Hillsborough Commission
Brooks Graebner, Chair
Bartow Culp, Vice Chair
Brenda Stephens, Treasurer
Virginia Ferguson, Secretary



Give the Gift of Membership

This holiday season, please consider giving the gift of membership in the North Carolina Writers’ Network.

Maybe someone has said to you, “You know what would make a great book?” A gift membership in NCWN might be the kick-in-the-pants they need to get started writing it.

Maybe someone you know writes all the time, on their own, but is too nervous to share their writing with the world. A gift membership in NCWN might introduce them to other writers who can offer encouragement, support, and room to grow.

Or maybe you simply recognize the value of the written word and want to support excellence in writing and the literary arts. A gift membership in NCWN will help us continue to offer our many programs and services for writers of all levels and experiences.

To give a gift membership, click here.

After filling out the billing info, you’ll be able to enter the recipient’s information.

The price of memberships varies.

What will the lucky writer on your holiday list get with a membership to the North Carolina Writers’ Network?

  • Discounts on conferences, competitions, and other Network events
  • Exclusive access to contests, calls for submissions, jobs, residencies, and other publication opportunities
  • The Network’s Critiquing and Editing Service (available only to Network members at below-market rates)
  • Coverage in Book Buzz and Hats Off!, two special website sections highlighting members’ achievements and publications, as well as through social media
  • Access to NCWN’s audio/visual resources including tutorials, online class archives, readings, presentations, and more
  • And more!

To give the gift of membership in the North Carolina Writers’ Network, click here.

And happy holidays!

Changes Coming to Yahoo! Groups

While the results have yet to be tabulated from the survey we sent out last week, asking all you writers how you use tech, one thing is clear: a whole lot of you use Facebook Groups to build your literary communities.

While we didn’t ask about Yahoo!, their group functionality was one of the first to come online to the wild, wild internet in the late nineties and early aughts. They’re making some large-scale changes to how Yahoo! Groups operates, so on the off-chance you’re still part of one listserv or  another, we thought we’d pass along this e-mail we received last night from Yahoo!

Dear Group Moderators and Members,

Last month we notified you of the changes coming to Yahoo Groups that better align with user habits, and today we are providing an update to guide you through the next steps of the transition. Yahoo Groups is not going away – but we are making adjustments to ultimately serve you better. We are amazed at the vibrant community you’ve created through Yahoo Groups and we want to make sure you feel supported as we introduce these changes.

The following changes were made since our last communication:

• Users can now only join a Yahoo Group through an invite or group request approval by the Group Moderator.
• New Groups can’t be public. They can only be private (not listed in Groups directory, membership by invitation only) or restricted (listed in Groups directory, membership requests must be approved by a Group Moderator).
• Members must share all content via email, and can no longer upload or host new content on the Yahoo Groups website itself.

The following changes will be made on December 14, 2019:

• Public groups will no longer exist. All existing public Groups will become restricted Groups that require Group Moderator approval to join.
Any content that was previously uploaded via the website will be removed.

If you would like to keep any of the content you’ve posted or stored within your Yahoo Group, please download it by December 14 by accessing the Groups Download Manager at this link. Once you provide your preferred email address, we will send you a confirmation of your download request and notify you once the download is complete.

You will receive a link to a downloadable zip file via email for each of your Groups organized into a separate folder. Download time varies depending on the amount of information and file size.

If your download request is made by 11:59pm PST on Saturday, December 14, 2019, your content will not be deleted until your download is complete. We are unable to accommodate any download requests made after this deadline.

This is the final reminder to download your content. You can find additional information about the upcoming changes here.

We have worked extensively with our customer support team to develop recommendations for tools that can help you with any download issues. See help article here.

We have watched the evolution of Yahoo Groups with awe, as we grew to a community of millions with over 10 million Groups. Every day, we witness the power of community and shared passions, and our mission is to provide a platform for the strong connections people make with each other around their interests.

We thank you for being part of the Yahoo Groups community and look forward to continuing to provide ways for you to connect with one another about your shared interests and passions.

The Groups Team

So, key takeaways: public groups are gone, and if you want to save any content you’ve uploaded to a Yahoo! group in the past twenty years, you have until 11:59 pm on Saturday, December 14, 2019, to retrieve it before it disappears forever. Godspeed!

PEN America Launches NC-Based Chapter

PEN AmericaThis fall, PEN America established six new regional chapters in the United States. Founded in 1922, the esteemed organization has traditionally been associated with the coasts, operating offices in Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

Now, chapters have launched in:

(Full disclosure: Deonna Kelli Sayed, the Membership Coordinator for NCWN, is the PEN America representative for The Piedmont Region of NC.)

The launch of these new chapters brings PEN America members together to stage writers in conversations, advocacy campaigns, public debates, and more, drawing on PEN America’s national resources and the creative energy and priorities of the local literary community.

“At a time of exceptional threats to free expression and open discourse, our chapters will bring years of mobilization, activism and organizing among writing communities across the country to the next level. We are exceptionally proud of the local leaders who are driving forward this effort,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “Our movement—called PEN Across America—is pushing back against the breakdown of civil discourse, the marginalization of vital voices, and encroachments on press freedom, driving forward PEN America’s mission at a time when it has never been more essential.’’

To find out more about The Piedmont Region of North Carolina chapter, and to sign up to receive more information, click here.

The next NC-based PEN America event is “Free Speech At a Time of Hate Speech,” which happens Wednesday, January 29, at the Greensboro History MuseumJonathan Friedman, PEN’s Project Director of Campus Free Speech, will be joined by two others. For more about the event, click here.

PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 centers worldwide that make up the PEN International network. PEN America works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others. Their strength is our Membership—a nationwide community of more than 7,200 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals, as well as devoted readers and supporters who join with them to carry out PEN America’s mission.

For more information about PEN America, visit