The first thing you ought to know about me is that my middle name is Cameron.
Stick with me on this.
My middle name is Cameron because my grandfather's middle name was Cameron. Because I like the way it sounds with her first name, my daughter's middle name is also Cameron.
My grandfather's middle name was Cameron because shortly before he was born, Cameron Morrison, North Carolina's "Good Roads Governor," had a road built through east Lincoln County that happened to run right past my great-grandparents' farm. Thanks to Cameron Morrison, my great-grandparents' main source of income - a small sawmill bolted to the back of a flatbed truck - became a lot more profitable and easier to use.
This is the first thing you ought to know about me because my middle name has made me aware of two indisputable truths. One - North Carolina, in the less-than-a-century between the birth of my grandfather and the birth of his great-granddaughter, has come a long, long way.
Two - everything means more when you know the story.
I will need to keep both these truths in mind as I look forward to becoming the North Carolina Writers' Network's new executive director.
I adore my home state. I have the state flag, in bumper sticker form, stuck to the back of my car. One of these days, I swear, I'll get the state flag tattooed somewhere on my body (I just have to figure out where; no suggestions necessary, thanks). I have been fortunate enough to visit every corner; I have been to Manteo, and I have been to Murphy. I have been to Silk Hope, Meat Camp, Rose Hill, Saxapahaw, Chocowinity, and Aho.
I am convinced that North Carolina has something intrinsically special about it, something worth knowing, saving, and celebrating. That's why North Carolina needs its writers.
I am also convinced that North Carolina's special quality is strong enough to survive an honest look at the times and ways the state has failed its ideals and its people; Cameron Morrison, after all, was also a noted white supremacist. That's why North Carolina needs its writers.
North Carolina has changed, and is changing, and will keep on changing. Not all that long ago, the state was so poor that decent roads inspired people to name children after the man responsible for them. Now a quick drive on a new four-lane highway connects my grandfather's birthplace to the second-largest financial center in the United States.
Not all that long ago, all the state's citizens - at least those who were allowed to enjoy the full rights of citizens - looked more or less like I do. Not too many years ago, most everyone in this state was born in this state, as were their parents.
Now, we attract newcomers from all over the country and the world: retirees moving to the coast or the mountains, students attending our colleges, new graduates recruited to jobs in the Research Triangle or Charlotte, actors looking for stardom in Wilmington, laborers looking for any kind of work that will provide a better life for themselves and their families. Now, North Carolina is home to all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds, speaking all kinds of languages, all with a story to tell, all North Carolinians.
These changes need to be recorded and reflected upon. Newcomers, and those whose voices have been ignored for too long, need to share their stories, and those stories need to be welcomed into the statewide conversation. That's why North Carolina needs its writers.
North Carolina has a stronger literary tradition than any one of its towns (even Hillsborough). North Carolina's people have more and better stories to tell than any one of its ethnic, demographic, or geographic subsets.
That's why North Carolina needs a statewide writers’ network, to bring writers from Manteo together with writers from Murphy and give them what they need to tell their stories: advice, encouragement, ideas, and community.
The North Carolina Writers' Network is here to provide all the state's writers with a place to look for instruction in the craft of writing, for opportunities to reach readers, for other writers with whom they can swap thoughts and stories. The tools we use to do this might change, as the state has, as we adapt to new technologies, new audiences, new realities that writers have to face.
Our essential mission, though, never will change, just as the essential needs of writers - and the essential need for writers - never will.
North Carolina is no longer an underdog, no longer the humble, homogeneous, segregated state it once was. North Carolina, I hope, will always be a special place, with lively traditions of friendliness, lack of pretension, hard work, and simplicity: being, rather than seeming.
For that, North Carolina will need its writers.
Let's get to work.