Friday from the Archives: After last weekend’s inspiring North Carolina Writers’ Network Fall Conference in Wrightsville Beach, we are reminded of the Executive Director Ed Southern’s essay “Why We Are “The Writingest State” in NCLR 2016, the 25th Anniversary edition.
As most longtime readers of NCLR know, Doris Betts put forth “North Carolina is the Writingest state,” and that charge continues to hold true to this day. We have the utmost gratitude for all those who share their stories with us. But like others, we do sometimes wonder just why there are so many writers here. North Carolina Writers’ Network Executive Director Ed Southern pondered the same in our 2016 issue. He mused that “with few of the old telling places left – no front porches at the end of the day shift, no galleries on crossroads stores, no linthead stomps, hardly any crop-to-market days – we write it down, instead. We help each other write, too, and are not chary with advice and encouragement. In this support, we take seriously the niceness and humility of which our state has so long boasted…”
Southern does a quick review of the story of our home state, reminding the reader how the things which appeared impediments to outsiders became sources of inspiration for what would make North Carolina one of the fastest-growing states: education and manufacturing. We continue to draw newcomers here, and so, Southern reminds us, “To keep our claim as the Writingest State, we must be so in both of two ways. We must foster the spread of creative writing as the most democratic of arts, encouraging all who would to write whatever stories they hold. Yet we also must recognize, celebrate, demand excellence: know it when we read it; settle for nothing less (or more) than a good story, well told; work to make weak writing stronger and good writing great.”
After charting a literary lineage across time and state, Southern gets back to the heart of not why we have so many writers, but why that is even important. “The line between kind and indulgent is a fine and faint one. Lord help us that our niceness never becomes back-slapping – uncritical, undemanding, and unexpansive. To do so would insult all those writers before us who worked so hard to wake up the Rip Van Winkle State and pull it out of the dust.” It is thanks to the work – literary in our case, but we are grateful, too, for writing of all kinds – of these writers over the years who have and continue to shine their own lights on the story of what North Carolina was, is, and can be.