NC Literary Hall of Fame




ASHEVILLE—Abigail DeWitt, author of three novels, will lead the Master Class in Fiction, "Studies in Character Development," at the North Carolina Writers' Network 2019 Fall Conference, November 8-10, at the Doubletree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore.

Conference registraiton is open.

Abigail's three novels are Lili, Dogs, and News of Our Loved Ones. Described by BookList as a work of “masterful artistry,” News of Our Loved Ones was chosen as an Editor’s Choice by BookBrowse and the Historical Novel Society. Abigail's short fiction has appeared in Narrative, Five Points, Witness, the Alaska Quarterly Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Drafthorse, and elsewhere. She has been cited in Best American Short Stories, nominated for a Pushcart, and has received grants and fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Tyrone Guthrie Center, the McColl Center for the Arts, and the Michener Society. Follow her on Instagram at @abigaildewittauthor or visit her website:

This year, NCWN has been celebrating libraries, so we asked Abigail to give us her best library memory. She graciously allowed us to print her essay, "A Love Letter to Librarians":

"Of all the characters in all the novels I’ve ever read, the one whose decency and courage moves me most often to tears is the librarian in the appendix to The Sound and the Fury.

"Decades after the beautiful, damned Caddie has been banned from home because of her promiscuity, the librarian, 'a mouse-sized and -colored woman who had never married,' is the only one who stands up for Caddie. She may look the part of the librarian-cliché, but she alone confronts Jason, who banished Caddie in the first place and whose cruelty represents for Faulkner the worst of post-civil war South.

"I sometimes think of that character when I think about my friend Sylvia, a recently retired Bookmobile librarian in our rural Appalachian county. Every year, Sylvia logged close to 12,000 miles, driving up and down winding, often rutted, often one-lane roads. She brought books to the elderly and to people with disabilities, but also to children in federally funded after-school programs, homeschoolers, and anyone who couldn’t get to the library. We are a Tier One, economically disadvantaged county, deep in Trump country, and she sometimes also delivered food along with books.

"On the surface, Sylvia has nothing in common with Faulkner’s librarian. After failing to convince Jason to help her save Caddie, that nameless fictional character finds herself packed into a crowded bus, weeping. She is 'smaller than any other there so that her feet touch…the floor only occasionally until a [man]…pick[s] her up bodily and set[s] her into a seat next to the window, where still crying quietly she c[an] look out upon the fleeing city…' Sylvia lives on a farm and is used to lifting things that are much heavier than a mouse-sized woman. Once, when the brakes went out on the Bookmobile bus as she was navigating a steep, winding road, she rose, pulled on the emergency brake, and drove the whole way down standing up. Sylvia is also happily married to a woman.

"I asked her once if the many Bookmobile patrons who believe homosexuality is a sin knew the truth about her. She shrugged. 'I’m friends with a lot of library patrons on Facebook, so they have to know. They still give me gifts. Candy, homemade sausage, flowers, apple butter.' She continued, 'You can find common ground with anyone through books.'

"I thought about the suspension of judgment that takes place when a fundamentalist Christian offers food to a lesbian without trying to save her, and a liberal offers books to a Trump supporter without trying to save her. I thought how rare such an exchange was—rare, at least, if social media is to be believed—and I remembered this quote, from Duncan Smith’s article, 'Your Brain on Fiction' in the ALA Reference & User Services Quarterly: 'We frequently hear fiction reading described…as an escape…we need to be clear about what readers are escaping from. They are escaping from a narrow, limiting view of the world and journeying to a place where it is possible to experience a deeper connection to our real selves and to live fully in our world.'

"It makes sense that it would be a librarian who would open her heart to Caddie, just as it is Sylvia who creates and fosters an open-hearted exchange between people who, in so many other contexts, might loathe one another. The cliché of the primly disapproving librarian could not be further from the truth: it is librarians, after all, who, by handing us the means to transcend boundaries, are the true revolutionaries in a species so bent on mistrust of what is different."

While Abigail's Master Class in Fiction is now full, there are many excellent options for writers of fiction.

Kevin McIlvoy will lead "Pre-Writing Is a Matter of Pre-Trusting"; Dale Neal will lead "Why Not Ask?"; "Thievery, Loss, and Scars: a Fiction Workshop" will be led by Heather Newton; and NCWN trustee Tommy Hays will lead "If You're Afraid to Write about It, Write about It."

Fall Conference attracts hundreds of writers from around the country and provides a weekend full of activities that include lunch and dinner banquets with readings, keynotes, tracks in several genres, open mic sessions, and the opportunity for one-on-one manuscript critiques with editors or agents. Jeremy B. Jones will lead the Master Class in Creative Nonfiction; Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs will lead the Master Class in Poetry; Ron Rash will give the Keynote Address.

Register here.

The nonprofit North Carolina Writers’ Network is the state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to all writers, in all genres, at all stages of development. For additional information, visit


DURHAM—Bull City author Jasmine Kumalah has been named the recipient of the 2020 Sally Buckner Emerging Writers’ Fellowship.

Jasmine’s excerpt from her novel-in-progress, Birds Under Water, explores the boundaries of poetry and prose through the story of a girl named Fatima and her migration from the fictionalized country of Bantunia.

Along with a $500 stipend, Jasmine wins a full scholarship to attend the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2019 Fall Conference, November 8-10, in Asheville. She also receives a one-year membership in NCWN.

Jasmine Kumalah is a Sierra Leonean-Togolese American writer based in Durham. She is the author of novella Holding Demons in Small Jars (Lystra Books & Literary Services, 2016). Her essays and art reviews have been published in Black Girl Dangerous, Ayiba Magazine, AADAT online magazine, Interrupt MAG and the anthology Walking the Tightrope: Poetry and Prose by LGBTQ Writers from Africa

“The judges were uniformly impressed with the artistic strength of [her] submitted work sample,” said June Guralnick, who facilitates the fellowship, “and [her] interview candor.”

Jasmine was selected from a list of three finalists, including Hazel Foster and Hampton Williams Hofer, both NCWN members. The judges praised the quality of writing from all this year’s finalists.

This year's judges included NCWN trustee Michele T. Berger; Chris Tonelli; and former NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti.

The North Carolina Writers’ Network offers the annual Sally Buckner Emerging Writers’ Fellowship, in honor of the late poet, editor, and educator. The Buckner Fellowship supports emerging writers whose work shows promise of excellence and commitment to a literary career.

Applicants must be in the early stages of their careers and will not have had yet the support needed to achieve major recognition for their work. No specific academic background is required or preferred. Each year the program will accept applications from writers working primarily in one of four specified genres, rotated over a four-year cycle.

The 2021 genre will be announced at a later date; submissions open for the 2021 Buckner Fellowship on May 1 and run through June 30.

Award recipients are invited to somehow “pay it forward.” Jasmine Kumalah intends to use her year to inspire others to write.

A native of Statesville, Sally Buckner taught every level from kindergarten through graduate school, including twenty-eight years as a faculty member at Peace College, inspiring thousands of young people to find their own unique writing voices. Buckner’s published nonfiction, fiction, and poetry can be found in numerous journals, and in 1986, her collection of poetry, Strawberry Harvest, was published by St. Andrews Press. Other poetry collections include Collateral Damage (2008) and Nineteen Visions of Christmas (2011). Buckner edited two well-known anthologies of North Carolina literature: Our Words, Our Ways: Reading and Writing in North Carolina (1991) and Word and Witness: 100 Years of NC Poetry (1999).

For more about Sally Buckner, click here.

The North Carolina Writers' Network connects, promotes, and serves writers of this state, providing education in the craft and business of writing, opportunities for recognition and critique of literary work, resources for writers at all stages of development, support for and advocacy of the literary heritage of North Carolina, and a community for those who write.

For more information, visit


ASHEVILLE—Joseph Bathanti is a former poet laureate of North Carolina and a recipient of the 2016 North Carolina Award in Literature, the state's highest civilian honor.

The author of seventeen books, Joseph is McFarlane Family Distinguished Professor of Interdisciplinary Education & Writer-in-Residence of Appalachian State University’s Watauga Residential College, in Boone. He served also as the 2016 Charles George VA Medical Center Writer-in-Residence in Asheville.

During Saturday's luncheon at the North Carolina Writers' Network 2019 Fall Conference, there will be excerpts from the staged readings of Brothers Like These, a collection of poems and prose by some of those who Joseph worked with during his time at the VA.

The NCWN 2019 Conference runs November 8-10 at the Doubletree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore. Registration is open.

This year, NCWN has been celebrating libraries. As part of this year-long appreciation, Joseph generously allowed us to reprint this excerpt from his essay, "A Catechism of Books" (North Carolina Libraries, Spring/Summer, 2002). 

"By the time I left Pittsburgh for North Carolina with a master’s degree in English (what else?), I knew I wanted to be a writer. I applied to VISTA, was accepted, and assigned to work with prison inmates in and around Charlotte, an assignment that ended up being quite congenial to writing. But I didn’t know anything about writing except that it took a lot of longing—which I’ve always been good at. Well before I ever had a North Carolina driver’s license, I had library card at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public library on Tryon Street in downtown Charlotte. Not so downtown then, and the library not half so glittering. But it was charming and devout, and it was there that I first became acquainted with, actually saw in the flesh, so to speak, the first little magazines and periodicals I was destined to publish in, though at the time nothing seemed more remote.

"I was puttering away on my poems and stories, and I needed somewhere to send them. I’d pull them off the periodical wall: Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, The Carolina Quarterly, South Carolina Review. To actually see and touch those magazines, to be able to copy those names and addresses into the little pocket notebook that surely all writers carry to accommodate the capricious muse, made me feel like a writer. It wasn’t long before those rejection slips started pouring in.

"Then there are the little, often tiny, North Carolina libraries that over the past many years have endeared themselves to me. Nothing spectacular about them at all, their architecture is merely functional, frequently stark, sometimes merely a storefront such as the one in Old Fort, in McDowell County, where children were able to check out not only books, but toys, where I found a cassette tape of French monks singing Gregorian chants, recorded live on Easter morning—in the 14th century for all I knew.

"These little libraries stand as outposts in their respective counties, peddling much more than books. The Hampton B. Allen Library, for instance, in downtown Wadesboro in Anson County, stands as the nexus of the county’s culture. When we lived in Anson County, it hosted a lecture series, the bloodmobile, a support group on adolescent pregnancy, the community theatre, and was also headquarters to Moonsong Productions when Stephen Spielberg was in town filming The Color Purple. It was also the site of a baby shower our friends had for my wife and me a few weeks before our first son was born.

"I can bow my head and recite the litany of libraries, a long prose poem, I have traveled to in this fair state, and in each one there was a surprise waiting for me in the persons of North Carolina citizens fiercely devoted to the word."

Brothers Like These is comprised of stories and poems written by Vietnam combat veterans in Classroom B, an out-of-the-way room in the basement of the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville. They gathered to write every Wednesday for almost two years under the guidance of former state poet laureate, Joseph Bathanti of Appalachian State University, and Dr. Bruce Kelly, a primary care physician at the VA. Brothers Like These  is an enduring testimony to their shared sacred sense of community, love, and brotherhood. These are stories and poems, large and small, funny and heartbreaking, that only these men can relate in their own inimitable styles—stories and poems not just invaluable to succeeding generations of soldiers, but to every citizen of our country, and beyond. Brothers Like These, the staged reading, premiered on August 31, 2016, at the Asheville Community Theater to a packed house and has now been performed in a number of other venues across North Carolina. A companion book to Brothers Like These was published in 2017 by St. Andrews University Press.

Fall Conference attracts hundreds of writers from around the country and provides a weekend full of activities that include lunch and dinner banquets with readings, keynotes, tracks in several genres, open mic sessions, and the opportunity for one-on-one manuscript critiques with editors or agents. Master Classes will be led by Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs (Poetry) and Jeremy B. Jones (Nonfiction). Ron Rash will give the Keynote Address.

Register here.

The nonprofit North Carolina Writers’ Network is the state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to all writers, in all genres, at all stages of development. For additional information, visit


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