Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina Writers’ Network’


Ed Southern: Close To Home, But Seeing The Literary World From Many Angles

February 2, 2009

edglobeToday, Ed Southern marks his one-year-and-one-month anniversary as executive director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. But even with only a little over a year under his belt at this position, he’s hardly new to the literary world. His resume so far includes working for Borders for four years in the mid- to late-90s, helping that company to open its first store in London; then spending nearly nine years in the publishing industry at John F. Blair in Winston-Salem, NC, where he ultimately served as vice-president of sales and marketing; and throughout working as a writer and editor himself, with recent and upcoming titles on regional history, plus — on the near horizon — a book of his own short fiction, Parlous Angels

Under Southern’s leadership, the Network is embarking on some new and exciting programs: “Writing the New South,” a web-based project debuting today, and “Talking at the Table,” a panel discussion on Sunday, February 15, featuring some of the region’s best-known food writers. He also regularly offers thoughts and news on the Network’s blog, White Cross School, which began during his tenure. And the Network continues its fine, long-standing program of conferences, workshops, etc., in addition to offering a wide range of resources for writers within the state and far beyond its borders. 

Southern talks here about his first year at the Network, looks toward highlights of the coming year, and discusses his own personal projects.

Art Taylor: Over the years, you’ve worked in many facets of the literary world: on the bookselling end, in the publishing industry for John F. Blair, and as a writer and editor yourself. Looking back on nearly a full year as head of the NCWN, what have been the new — and maybe unexpected — challenges of your latest post?

Ed Southern: This is a very pedestrian answer, but my biggest surprise was the amount of paperwork that comes with being a nonprofit organization. This is my first venture into the nonprofit world (although the book business could be considered barely-profit), and while I certainly understand — even welcome — the need for grantors to know that their money is being used well and appropriately, the sheer number of forms I have to fill out was a bit of a shock.

Other than that, nothing’s really surprised me. I’ve spent almost all my adult life working with writers, as well as being a writer myself, so I speak their language and understand their needs.

What’s been your proudest accomplishment over the last year? 

Getting through that year without botching anything horribly. Looking toward my second year, I’m most proud of a new program we’ve just started called Writing the New South. We’re asking our members to write brief works in the genre of their choice (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, anything) that deal with what’s going on in the state, the nation, the world right now. We’re posting them on our website,, so we give our writers a platform for their work, and create a record of our time and place.  Most importantly, we’re giving our members an incentive to write, and showing the public value of writers and writing.

Have you had many submissions so far for that project?

We launched Writing the New South on Monday, February 2, and have already received several submissions, as well as some new members. The general response has been very positive. People seem to recognize what it offers the state, and not just our members.

With the current economic climate, many areas of the publishing industry are in a meltdown of sorts, with obvious effects on writers as well. How have the events of the last year changed your sense of the mission — and the responsibilities — of the Writers’ Network and other organizations like it?

I have an unshakeable belief that the human race will always need writers, storytellers; we record what needs to be remembered, make sense of what is hard to comprehend, and — if we’re good — we entertain at the same time. The Network’s job is to bring writers together so they know they’re not
alone in what can seem a lonely task; to give writers access to excellence, opportunity, and community; and to help them figure out the new technologies and challenges that they will face if they want to publish their work.

The current economic climate hasn’t changed that mission, just amplified it.

southernShifting from your work for the NCWN to your personal projects: This month, John F. Blair is publishing Voices of the American Revolution in the Carolinas, and you’ve also edited the volume The Jamestown Adventure: Accounts of the Virginia Colony, 1605-1614. Coming up later this spring is another book, Sports in the Carolinas: From Death Valley to Tobacco Road, published by Novello Festival press.  Has history — and particularly the history of our immediate region — been a long-time interest, or is this a recent passion?

I’ve always been a history buff. My mother is a history teacher, and she always emphasized to me that history isn’t about dates and places, but about people who were living out a story without knowing how it would end. We think of Jamestown as the “first permanent English colony,” but its permanence was never guaranteed. Those colonists had no idea if Jamestown would make it, or if they would; as many as 90% of them died in the early years, and the colony was almost abandoned at one point.

We look back at the American Revolution from our current position as the world’s only superpower, but most of those who fought the war in the Carolinas were living in a wilderness, struggling to survive even before the war. They had no idea if they’d live through the next day, much less win the war. It all comes down to choices that individuals made, along with a fair share of luck or chance, maybe even fate.

Only in the past couple of years have I recognized that my fascination with history boils down to a curiosity about why and how the world turned out the way it did: Where did we come from?  Why are we — a person, a family, a culture — the way we are?  What happened to make us this way?  That’s a
question you can chase back all the way into pre-history, really.

Quick follow-up: Which is more fun to research and write about: early American history or 20th-century sports?

Honestly, I had just as much fun with each of them, and I think both topics address that big question I just talked about. From the 20th century on, you can’t separate sports from the culture as a whole.  So many people follow our favorite sports too closely, and identify too strongly with our favorite teams. Why? Where did that come from?

Finally, a quick word about another book on the horizon: your first book of fiction, Parlous Angels. Do your short stories stem from Southern roots as well? What drives you as a fiction writer?

I think all fiction comes from the writer’s roots.  Even though Hemingway wrote about Spain, Cuba, Africa, Italy, his whole outlook — not to mention his prose style — was based in his late Victorian, Midwestern childhood. Dylan Thomas once said that if he’d been born an Eskimo, he’d have written
poems about snow, but since he was born Welsh, he wrote about Wales. Not to compare my work to Hemingway’s or Thomas’s, but I was born and raised in the South, so I think I’d write like a Southerner even if my stories were set in Europe. (They’re not; all the stories in Parlous Angels, except for the
last one, take place in North Carolina.)

And I realize I’m coming off like a one-trick pony, but that same big question drives my fiction: Where did we, and the world we live in, come from?

Add to Facebook: post to facebook


Long Week, No Posts… Until Now, Of Course…. On Book World, George Mason University, The N.C. Writers Network, Public/Private & More

January 30, 2009

What a week.

In the midst of many doom-and-gloom predictions, the Washington Post made an announcement this week about dropping Book World as an independent section and redistributing book coverage throughout the paper. (Book World‘s own blog, “Short Stack,” has already featured two pieces related to the reorganization: one by Rachel Hartigan Shea and another by Alan Cooperman. And as usual, one of the best commentaries on the news comes from Sarah Weinman.)

At George Mason University, the first full week of classes (and first week of grading) brought some small turmoil my way: A snow day that didn’t quite reach my own classes; mistakes on my syllabus (student: “Um, Professor Taylor, none of the readings are in our book” — a revised edition) and then revisions to try to tidy those mistakes; several students who can’t stop texting in class; and then both one dry-erase marker and a back-up marker that both ran out of ink mid-lesson.

And on a more personal note: Honeymoon planning took some twists and turns, but seems to be working out. Ireland, here we come!

Now, back to business.


logowThe North Carolina Writers’ Network has recently announced a couple of new projects/programs. This past week, the organization launched “Writing the New South,” a program “offering its members a platform to record and share their experiences and interpretations of living in North Carolina as North Carolina changes dramatically.” Also on the horizon: On Sunday evening, February 15, the Network is hosting “Talking at the Table: Food Writing in the New South,” a panel discussion featuring John Shelton Reed, Dale Volberg Reed, Bill Smith, Debbie Moose, and other food writers talking about their work. Refreshments will, of course, be served — how could they not?! — and proceeds from the ticket sales ($50 per person) go toward the Network.

With regard to the Writers’ Network: This coming Monday’s interview on this site is with NCWN executive director Ed Southern. Don’t miss it!

Also on the schedule in the immediate week: 

  • Carl Hiaasen visits Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Monday, February 2, at 7:30 p.m. with his new kids book, Scat. There will be a ticketed signing line, and a book purchase is required to get a ticket. (Get there early.)
  • The Royal Bean Coffee House on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh (across from Meredith College) hosts an Open Mic Night on Thursday, February 5, beginning at 7 p.m. To sign-up, contact Maureen Sherbondy at (if you plan on reading). The event is cosponsored by Main Street Rag Publishing Company.

In And Around D.C.

I’m teaching a creative nonfiction course this semester at George Mason, and a couple of events I’m encouraging in this area are tangentially related to that.

First up, The Writer’s Center welcomes Philip Lopate — essayist, memoirist, novelist, poet, even film critic — to its 32nd birthday celebration on Saturday night, January 31, at 7:30 p.m. I’m teaching one of Lopate’s essays in my class next week, and I’m pleased to be seeing him in person on Saturday. Tickets are still available — $25 a person — if anyone still wants to join in. I’ll hope to report on it here afterwards.


Satomi Shirai, "cleaning," c-print, 2008. Borrowed from the Arlington Arts Center website without permission but with a nice link.

Next: Tara and I went last night to a preview of the Arlington Arts Center‘s new show, “Public/Private” — and I would highly recommend it. I actually found myself thinking of creative nonfiction as we examined some of the artwork: photographer Satomi Shirai’s seemingly intimate but intricately staged glimpses into her private life; Anissa Mack’s “My Sister’s Diary,” which posts excerpts from that diary on a kiosk of the Arts Center’s front lawn; Mandy Burrow’s altar pieces constructed from ordinary people’s personal belongings; and a couple of Philadelphia artists who’ve created a news network, “Everyone That We Know News,” that broadcasts everyday events in a TV newscast format: what someone had for dessert, who has a new girlfriend, etc. etc. These pieces and others offer some interesting and provocative insights into that wall between the public and the private and the way that today’s world (and particularly today’s technologies, perhaps) are increasingly breaking that wall down. (Coincidentally enough, our reception last night was “private” and the opening tonight (Friday, January 30) is “public.” Stop by if you get the chance. The show runs through April 4.)

Add to Facebook: post to facebook


Allan Gurganus Reads “A Fool For Christmas” — Plus Other Upcoming Events

December 3, 2008

As part of my various jobs, I serve two large communities.

In my home state of North Carolina, for example, I write regularly on books and literary events as a contributing editor for Metro Magazine; I’ve long been involved with the North Carolina Writers’ Network; and I’ve build some great relationships with several authors and booksellers throughout the region.

In my current home in Virginia — and specifically at George Mason University, where I teach — I work closely with the annual Fall for the Book Festival; I have friends and contacts at several other organizations, most particularly The Writer’s Center in Bethesda; and I’ve become a regular reviewer for The Washington Post (hardly a local paper, I know, but still an integral part of the regional community in addition to serving a national audience). 

As part of my connections to these two communities — and specifically as part of a new coordinated effort with Metro — I’d like to offer a weekly post that’s more local in scope, highlighting upcoming events that seem of particular interest to me and, I hope, to readers of this blog who call either of those two regions home. Here then are some suggestions from Wednesday, December 3, through Wednesday, December 10.

North Carolina

Allan Gurganus

Allan Gurganus

Among the top literary events in the Triangle area this weekend is an appearance by Allan Gurganus at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham. Gurganus will be reading “A Fool for Christmas,” an unpublished short story which was originally presented on NPR’s All Things Considered back on Christmas Eve, 2004. The story centers on a pet store manager named Vernon Ricketts and the pregnant teen he hires to do some part-time work around the holidays. Gurganus will be reprise the story at the Regulator on Friday, December 5, at 7 p.m. (And for those who can’t make it, NPR offers the original broadcast online.)

Other events this week in the Triangle and across Eastern North Carolina include:

  • John Shelton Reed & Dale Volberg Reed, authors of Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, on Wednesday afternoon, December 3, at The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, and again on Friday evening, December 5, at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.
  • Chapel Hill author Kate Betterton, author of Where the Lake Becomes the River, on Thursday evening, December 4, at Quail Ridge Books.
  • Dr. Mardy Grothe, Raleigh-based psychologist, management consultant, and author of I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like: A Comprehensive Compilation of History’s Greatest Analogies, Metaphors, and Similes, on Thursday afternoon, December 4, at The Country Bookshop
  • Bruce Roberts, former director of photography for Southern Living and author of Just Yesterday: N.C. People and Places, on Saturday afternoon, December 6, at Quail Ridge Books
  • Paul Austin, author of Something for the Pain: One Doctor’s Account of Life and Death in the ER, on Tuesday evening, December 9, at Pomegranate Books in Wilmington.

Northern Virginia, D.C., and Maryland

Two of the biggest events in D.C. over the next week — Toni Morrison discussing A Mercy on Thursday, December 4, and photographer Annie Leibovitz on Tuesday, December 9 — are both sold-out, but the events’ bookstore host, Politics and Prose, are still taking orders for signed copies of each author’s latest book; for information, call 202-364-1919. 

Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick

Another big event is the presentation of this year’s PEN/Malamud Awards, honoring excellence in short fiction. Peter Ho Davies and Cynthia Ozick are the 2008 recipients, and the two authors will read from their works at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Friday, December 5, at 8 p.m. The event is presented by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Tickets are $12. 

In other news:

  • Writers in the MFA program at George Mason University offer a free reading on Friday, December 5, at 7 p.m. at The Firehouse Grille in Old Town Fairfax, VA. Slated to present new works are fiction writer Tim Rowe and nonfiction writer Valerie Lambros.
  • On the same evening, poets Reed Whittemore, Cicely Angleton, and Elaine Magarrell appear at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, at 7:30 p.m. to read from the recent anthology Inventory.
  • Finally, DC Poets Against the War host readings on Saturday and Sunday, December 6-7, in conjunction with the Peace Mural Exhibit. Readings take place at 3 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, and at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Sunday at 3336 M Street, NW. 

Add to Facebook: post to facebook

%d bloggers like this: