North Carolina literature is hot!

Library Journal is a semi-monthly magazines aimed at librarians. I read it regularly because it’s a good source of book reviews and news on forthcoming books. Like a number of other reviewing sources, Library Journal uses a star to draw the reader’s attention to a book that is particularly good. The July 2007 issue contained reviews of four forthcoming books from North Carolina authors, all of which received starred reviews. Mark your calendars for these books:

Sarah Addison Allen. Garden Spells (due out in August)
John Hart. Down River (October publication date)
Margaret Maron. Hard Row: A Deborah Knott Mystery (due out in August)
Robert Morgan. Boone: A Biography (October publication date)

Even better than I remember


Many of us look back on our college years through rose-colored glasses. College yearbooks have encouraged this nostalgia with beautiful images of campus scenes and buildings and formal portraits of us and our friends looking happy and exceptionally well groomed. The 1932 edition of The White Heather, by the seniors of Flora Macdonald College, takes this model to a higher level. Even in my fondest memories, college was not as idyllic as it is pictured here.

Don’t judge a book by its cover


When I began buying books for the North Carolina Collection, I was amazed and delighted to see the role that trust plays in the buying and selling of rare and out-of-print books. Sellers trust me to be the person I represent myself to be, and I trust them to describe honestly the books they are selling. Confident in the accurate the description of a book, I then decide if the book is worth the asking price. In the decade plus that I have been doing this job, I have rarely been disappointed in a purchase. Last week, I thought I was about to experience one of those disappointments.

I purchased, from a bookseller I have long done business with, a small 1928 pamphlet, The Archers Handbook. It is a manufacturer’s catalog and guidebook from the Archers Company, a small Pinehurst firm. When I opened the carton from the bookseller, my spirits sank to see a small, slightly battered 4 x 6 inch pamphlet. While the pamphlet clearly deserves a place in the North Carolina Collection because it documents this firm and provides insights into the history of recreation in the state, I thought I had overpaid for it. That gloomy thought troubled me until the end of the day when I sat down and went page-by-page through the volume and became enchanted by the clear drawings and color illustrations in the volume. The clean, crisp images of bows and arrows are a delight, even for someone who left archery behind when she quit the Girl Scouts. My trust was restored. But don’t take my word for the beauty of these illustrations, see some of them for yourself.

Friendly to flyers

As some state officials and many private citizens try to prevent the Navy from establishing an outlying landing field in Beaufort and Washington counties, readers might be interested to know that in an earlier time North Carolina civic leaders courted a different aviation facility. The North Carolina Collection has a copy of An Invitation to the Air Force Academy to Establish in Moore County, North Carolina. This pamphlet, put together by the Southern Pines Chamber of Commerce, touts the location, infrastructure, recreational possibilities, and natural advantages (such as a “healthful and invigorating” climate) of the Sandhills Region. The invitation was sent to the Air Force Academy Site Selection Committee in 1950. Southern Pines was one of 580 sites proposed for the new academy; it was not one of the three sites recommended to the Secretary of the Air Force.

A Mother’s Letter

How many novels contain a scene like this: a reader opens an old book and finds stuck between its pages a document that illuminates an obscure past? In reality, most of what we find tucked into old books are grocery lists, gum wrappers, scraps of paper used for bookmarks, and other detritus of everyday life. The most memorable item that I’ve ever found was a daisy chain of clover.

Jenny Townes, a graduate student who works in the North Carolina Collection, recently came across a much more important find. While she was processing a collection of books once owned by the late Archie K. Davis, Jenny removed a large number of envelopes and receipts from a copy of The Revised Statutes of the State of North Carolina, Passed by the General Assembly at the Session of 1836-7. One of the envelopes contained a letter to Mrs. Jeannette Conrad from a woman who identified herself as “a former servant.” The letter-writer, Judy Coonnard, asked Mrs. Conrad’s help in locating her children. What Jenny had found was a letter documenting the efforts of one former slave to reunite with her children.

We welcome any information that you might have on the people whose names appear in this letter.

Letter to Judy Conrad, first page

Letter from Judy Contrad, page 2

Biltmore in 1905

Biltmore House, 1905

George Washington Vanderbilt was the youngest of his parents’ eight children. Because of the age difference between George and his siblings, some of his closest family ties were with his nieces and nephews. One niece, Edith Shepard Fabbri, visited Biltmore in late 1905 with her husband, Ernesto G. Fabbri, and their two children. Ernesto Fabbri, described in his New York Times obituary as a “world traveler, linguist, and former president of the Society of Italian Immigrants in New York,” was the heir of Egisto Fabbri, a J.P. Morgan partner. He and Edith Vanderbilt Shepard were married in 1897 and divorced in 1923.

Apparently, Fabbri was an amateur photographer. The North Carolina Collection recently purchased an album of photographs that Fabbri made during that 1905 visit to Biltmore. The seventeen large (7 1/2 x 9 1/2 inch) photographs include images of the exterior of the mansion, the model village, farm buildings and animals, and the ferry across the French Broad. The final image in the album shows George Vanderbilt’s wife, Edith Dresser Vanderbilt, setting up her camera on a hillside on the estate. Several of the images appeared in Ellen Erwin Rickman’s Biltmore Estate (Arcadia Publishing, 2005), but most have not been published. The first image in the album is shown here.

Bronson Alcott in North Carolina

Fans of Louisa May Alcott know that her popular novel Little Women was to some degree a fictional account of her family. The father in Little Women is mostly absent, away at the Civil War. In March, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Geraldine Brooks, readers get the back story on Mr. March. We learn that he was a poor man from Connecticut who went south as a peddler. In the South, he was seduced by the intellectual atmosphere of wealthy plantation households even as he was shocked to learn the harsh measures used to deny education to enslaved African Americans. Louisa May Alcott’s father, Amos Bronson Alcott, came south as a peddler and a teacher in the 1820s, and North Carolina was on his itinerary. The North Carolina Collection has a brief account of his time here in the form of a research paper by University of North Carolina professor Raymond Adams. Professor Adams read “Bronson Alcott in North Carolina” before the Philological Club of the University in May, 1944. The North Carolina Collection has the typescript of that paper available for anyone who wants to explore the history behind the early chapters of Geraldine Brooks’ interesting novel.

African Americana in the North Carolina Collection

“We stand on the shoulders of giants.” This sentiment has been expressed so many times that it is now a cliche, but it is a phrase that comes to mind when I look through the out-of-print book catalogs that cross my desk. I felt this most recently when I studied the latest list of African Americana from Bibliomania, a California book dealer.

I expected the North Carolina Collection to have The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt by William Andrews (Louisiana State University Press, 1980), but it was a happy surprise to find that we have two more obscure titles offered by Bibliomania. The Silent Murder, by Mildred Evelyn Miller (Exposition Press, 1977) is a novel set in North Carolina that follows the struggles of a good woman whose life is scarred by the alcoholism of her husbands. William H. Frazer’s The Possumist and Other Stories (Murrill Press, 1924) is an example of a type of literature that many people are no longer comfortable with: dialect stories written by a white author that purport to offer an accurate view of African American speech and thought. Good, bad, sad, scholarly–all of these books have their place in the North Carolina Collection as examples of the cultural heritage of this state in the twentieth century.