Books in Burnsville

Does any other state have as many literary festivals as North Carolina? We knew about the big North Carolina Literary Festival held every other year in the Triangle, and the annual Novello Festival in Charlotte, but we just learned about another one. The Carolina Mountains Literary Festival will be held September 15-16 in Burnsville. They have an impressive number of authors scheduled to attend, including Sharyn McCrumb, Joan Medlicott, and John Ehle.

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.

Gurganus on Floyd

Yesterday’s Charlotte Observer reported that Allan Gurganus is working on new book. Tentatively titled Fourteen Feet of Water in My House, the novel will be set in North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Gurganus is the editor of the 2006 volume of New Stories from the South. The Observer piece includes a great quote from the introduction: “Bad Southern Lit is like Bad Southern Oysters. Nothing will make you sicker when it’s ‘off.’ “

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.

Thirteen Moons

We don’t usually go to Entertainment Weekly for literary news, but maybe we should. That magazine has just reported on an “exclusive” look at the new Random House catalog, which contains information on and a release date for Thirteen Moons, the long-awaited second novel from Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier. Thirteen Moons is due to appear in bookstores on October 3, 2006. Of course we couldn’t help but notice that October 3 is the birthdate of western North Carolina’s second-most-popular author, Thomas Wolfe.

Pig Poem

We feel that lately we’ve been neglecting in this forum the fine literary efforts of North Carolinians. We want to correct that now by sharing a poem that we found in the Tarboro Free Press for January 27, 1827, following the announcement of the killing of a hog that at only two years old had reached the impressive weight of 535 pounds.

A hog is not a natural gift,
Although this was bad to lift;
It took seven blows to lay him flat,
But still he made a keg of fat.

Regrettably, the work is unsigned, thus leaving us no way of finding any other gems penned by this poet for the ages.

Western NC Reads …

It’s too late to vote now, and good thing, because it would have been a tough choice. Readers in western North Carolina had to select between these titles for the 2006 “Together We Read” program: Anthology of Regional Folk Tales, Sharyn McCrumb’s The Ballad of Frankie Silver, Lee Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies, Gail Godwin’s A Mother and Two Daughters, and Ron Rash’s Saints at the River.

And the winner is . . . Saints at the River, Ron Rash’s 2004 novel, set in western South Carolina, about the death of a young girl and the environmental concerns that grip a small town.

Robert Ruark Revisited

Robert Ruark Bookplate

North Carolina novelist Robert Ruark, who died in 1965, continues to have a small but devoted following. The Wilmington native and UNC alumnus is perhaps best known for his novel The Old Man and the Boy (1957). He was an active sportsman and traveller, and his devotion to these themes in his work meant that he was often eclipsed by the figure of Ernest Hemingway. Nonetheless there appears to be something of a Ruark renaissance these days. There is an active Robert Ruark Society, a Robert Ruark Foundation in Southport, an exhibit on Ruark is being planned for the Chapel Hill Museum, and yesterday’s Wilmington Star-News ran a nice profile of the author.

The image shown here is of a bookplate from Robert Ruark’s personal library, some volumes of which are now housed at UNC-Chapel Hill.