About Literary North Carolina
North Carolina’s literary heritage begins with Cherokee storytellers, whose first written syllabary was created in 1821 by Sequoyah, a Cherokee silversmith. The Cherokee were the subject of our state’s first novel, Eoneguski, or, The Cherokee Chief: A Tale of Past Wars, written by U.S. Senator Robert Strange in 1839. The Hope of Liberty, the first book written by a slave — or any Southern African-American — was authored by Chapel Hill’s George Moses Horton in 1829.
Some of the most memorable literature of the 20th century was penned by writers who lived in our state, including Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Wilma Dykeman, O. Henry and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, whose 1938 novel The Yearling won the 1939 Pulitzer Prize. Contemporary authors include Anne Tyler, who in 1989 won the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons, Allan Gurganus, whose 2000 novel The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All spent eight months on The New York Times Best Seller list and Charles Frazier, the only North Carolinian to win the National Book Award for Fiction for 1997’s Cold Mountain.
Jan Karon, Fred Chappell, Sharyn McCrumb, Robert Morgan, Ron Rash and Lee Smith are other contemporary authors who have written vivid fiction set in the N.C. mountains. Doris Betts and Clyde Edgerton have given us memorable characters speaking in the cadences of the central Piedmont. Jill McCorkle, born and raised in Lumberton, and Margaret Maron of Johnston County have brought the coastal plains areas to life in their novels.
Novelists and poets from across N.C. emerge every year to present their work — some of it set in our state — to enthusiastic audiences at bookstores, libraries, literary festivals and campus auditoriums.
North Carolina honored the literary arts with the creation of the office of state poet laureate in 1935. Holders of this distinction have included Arthur Abernethy, James Larkin Pearson, Sam Ragan, Fred Chappell, Kathryn Stripling Byer and our current poet laureate Cathy Smith Bowers.
The homesteads of two of our state’s most prominent authors can be toured today. The “Old Kentucky Home,” an Asheville boarding house once owned by Thomas Wolfe’s mother, Julia, is today the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, a state historic site. Connemara, the home where poet Carl Sandburg spent the last 22 years of his life, is a national historic site in Flat Rock.
Writers of all ages and at all levels of experience find a welcoming home in N.C. The proliferation of university creative writing programs and the popularity of the N.C. Writers’ Network, established in 1985 and the largest in the country with a membership of 1,500, attest to the opportunities for writers to be mentored and nurtured in our state. Print-on-demand technologies like Raleigh-based Lulu have increased the opportunity to self-publish. The Internet, literary festivals, college and university-based reading series have made it easier for writers to network and promote themselves.
Today, literary artists in our state will also find opportunities for free-form, experimental and cutting edge work. Poetry slam teams based in Durham, Charlotte and Winston-Salem travel the Southeast and nationally to compete each year on the burgeoning slam tour circuit. Allan Wolf, a performance poet and writer, started Asheville’s Southern Fried — a major annual contest for teams and individual slam poets — in 1993. The Monti in Chapel Hill and Durham invites interesting people from the community to tell personal stories in front of a live audience.
The N.C. Arts Council has partnered with the National Education Association and the Poetry Foundation to bring the national recitation competition Poetry Out Loud to high schools across the state since its inception in 2006.
The Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains (2007) and Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont (2010) guidebooks were written by Georgann Eubanks on behalf of the N.C. Arts Council and were published in partnership with UNC Press.
With a reputation as an inspiring and nurturing home for writers, a growing community of successful authors born here or living here, and countless opportunities to experience writers and poets in person or on the page, N.C. has a rich and thriving literary heritage to enjoy.