About Literary North Carolina
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Calendar of Literary Festivals in North Carolina
Black Mountain, Montreat, Swannanoa
Canton, Cold Mountain, Lake Logan, Balsam
Sylva, Dillsboro, Cullowhee, Highlands
Franklin, Hayesville, Brasstown, Murphy, Texana
Robbinsville, Fontana, Almond, Nantahala Gorge
Bryson City, Cherokee, Great Smoky Mountains Natio
Waynesville, Hot Springs, Marshall, Mars Hill
Brevard, Rosman, Green River, Zirconia, Flat Rock,
Burnsville, Micaville, Celo, Mount Mitchell
Old Fort, Chimney Rock, Lake Lure, Tryon
Rutherfordton, Spindale, Forest City, Shelby
Lincolnton, Hickory, Moravian Falls
Wilkesboro, Happy Valley, Blowing Rock, Linville F
Marion, Little Switzerland, Spruce Pine, Penland,
Grandfather Mountain, Crossnore, Valle Crucis...
Todd, West Jefferson, Jefferson, Crumpler...
Germanton, Danbury, Pilot Mountain, Mount Airy,..
Mocksville, Cooleemee, Salisbury, Gold Hill
Statesville Mooresville Davidson Huntersville Conc
UNC Charlotte, NoDa, Brooklyn, Uptown Walking Tour
Charlotte Neighborhoods (Driving Tour)
Mount Holly, Belmont, Gastonia
Matthews, Monroe, Wingate, Marshville, Wadesboro
Norwood, Aquadale, Albemarle, Badin
Morrow Mountain, Troy, Star, Seagrove
Asheboro, Randleman, Lexington, Thomasville
High Point, Centre, Greensboro
Madison, Eden, Reidsville, Yanceyville, Milton, Ro
Hillsborough, Efland, Mebane
Graham, Burlington, Snow Camp, Silk Hope, Siler Ci
Chapel Hill and Carrboro
Stagville and Oxford
Cathy Smith Bowers
Kathryn Stripling Byer
Carole Boston Weatherford
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Black Mountain, Montreat, Swannanoa
From the edgy avant-garde to traditional poetry to contemporary mystery writing, the villages of Black Mountain, Montreat and Swannanoa are home to an incredibly rich variety of literary influences.
Writers with a connection to this area include: Patricia Cornwell, Robert Creeley, Fielding Dawson, Ed Dorn, Robert Duncan, Ruth Bell Graham, Francine du Plessix Gray, Jill Jones, Alfred Kazin, Charles Olson, Joel Oppenheimer, Mary Caroline Richards, Elizabeth Spencer, Peter Turchi, Ellen Bryant Voigt and Jonathan Williams.
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Detail from Black Mountain College campus
Black Mountain was freedom.
And within that freedom I and others developed a discipline in drawing and writing that involved listening and seeing with such continuous and every day, as it ever was. Black Mountain was not something you grew out of. Like freedom, you grew into it.
The pure open space we lived every day, was a lot like Paradise: not involved in the accepted world, the understood geopolitical sense of reality. Black Mountain was the people who were there, which explains its sudden changes. From 1950, or for sure ‘51, it was [Charles] Olson’s until it closed. Very different than Albers’. . .
We had to go to classes or face the wrath of the teacher: there wasn’t any kidding around. . . Classes were tough, we couldn't miss them — homework, heavy as it was, then doubled . . . it may have been free of academic rules and regulations, but that made it worse, the whole burden on us, and the faculty maybe getting plastered with us the night before no matter, we had to produce.
— From The Black Mountain Book, rev. ed., by Fielding Dawson (Rocky Mount: North Carolina Wesleyan College Press, 1991), 7, 205.
A progressive experiment in liberal arts education beginning in 1944, Black Mountain College hosted special institutes in the arts, drawing many of the most innovative composers, painters, dancers and poets of the era. Painters Jacob Lawrence, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell taught a student body that included notable future artists like Robert Rauschenberg. Working alongside composer John Cage, Merce Cunningham launched his dance troupe here.
The College also had a significant impact on literature, spawning the careers of dozens of nationally acclaimed writers. Charles Olson, called the “father” of the Black Mountain School of poets, helped to shift the institution’s focus on visual art to literature during its last years in the 1950s. Among his students were novelist Francine du Plessix Gray; poets Robert Creeley, Fielding Dawson, Ed Dorn and Robert Duncan; longtime Village Voice columnist Joel Oppenheimer; and publisher and poet Jonathan Williams.
Robert Creeley eventually taught at Black Mountain himself and launched the Black Mountain Review, and faculty member Mary Caroline Richards and her students started the Black Mountain Press. Literary critic Alfred Kazin taught here, and John Dewey, Thornton Wilder and Henry Miller visited or gave lectures at the school.
The Black Mountain legacy continues through the work of its many students and their students working today. The late Jonathan Williams’ Jargon Press, headquartered in Winston-Salem, is the primary heir to the Black Mountain tradition in N.C. Down the road from Black Mountain in Swannanoa, Warren Wilson College — where many students earn their way, deferring tuition by helping to grow, prepare and serve food in the dining hall and perform other tasks to keep the college running smoothly — partly reflects the early influence of Black Mountain College. Other progressive colleges around the country — including Bard, Goddard and Antioch — were likewise influenced by the Black Mountain model.
Today, it is possible to visit the old campus on Lake Eden and imagine what it might have been like to study there more than 50 years ago, but the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville keeps the legacy alive with workshops, lectures, presentations, exhibitions, a video archive, research materials and a selection of books and other materials.
A shortened version of “Mountain Retreat Association,” Montreat was a home to many retired clergy, church missionaries and their children including Nelson and Virginia Bell, the parents of the late poet Ruth Bell Graham, in the early 1940s. Ruth and evangelist Billy Graham were married at Montreat Presbyterian Church in 1943, and as his fame as a preacher grew, Montreat became a tourist destination. Ruth Graham’s longing for privacy and retreat from this onslaught of tourists was detailed in A Time for Remembering: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham (1983) the first book published by Montreat resident and family friend Patricia Daniels Cornwell. Over the years, Montreat has served as a seasonal retreat, a conference facility and a continuing education resource for Christian groups. It has hosted summer camps for girls and boys for more than a century, creating the kind of indelible memories described here by Chapel Hill fiction writer Elizabeth Spencer in her autobiographical essay Heading for the Hills:
Lake Susan, where the young Elizabeth Spencer “cooled off” at Montreat summer camp
Often, at night, the camp director, a really pretty widow, would come up and talk to us about her religious beliefs, speaking with utter sincerity and simplicity. She always prayed for us aloud before we loaded up in the truck bed and went caroling away on one of our Saturday trips to the Biltmore Estate or some other place too distant for hiking to. She would read a Psalm about the Lord preserving our going out and our coming in for now and evermore. It is easy to see that she lived with the worry that someone might fall off a mountain or get snake bit. A tragic accident was about all that was needed to upset her precarious financial balance. She could often be observed in her rooms with her bright head of hair bent down over account books. At any rate, the Lord heeded her: we all lived.
In the middle of this sojourn, so kindly conceived of as the place I was to improve my health, meet new people, gain weight, have fun, a letter arrived announcing that my mother, brother, and two aunts were on the way. A terrible pretender, I had written glowing letters home about how wonderful everything was, but another, truer message had somehow got through between the lines of the awkwardly written missive. I was thought to be homesick. The idea! I replied. Nevertheless, when, a week later, the family car pulled up the twisting road from the lake, I felt the key strike the prison door. No more ice water or wearisome clambering over slimy moss. No more shouting songs with silly words. No more scheduled play. Liberation was at hand.
It may be that my mother and aunts had invented the whole plan of my rescue from homesickness in order to get to North Carolina. At any rate, I joined the party, and the mountains took on another aspect entirely, as the view was now something not demanding to be hiked through. My mother and aunts would never have dreamed of climbing anything beyond the steps with balustrades, and my brother never mentioned it either. We were tourists in a beautiful land, which I could see for the first time without thinking how not to cry. Little Switzerland was a day trip, and Chimney Rock another; the camera was often out. The mountain air they delighted in became wonderfully breathable to me as well, “pure ozone,” as they called it, and we followed twisting roads both up and down, dizzy with daring and danger, hoping the car would make it and the radiator would not explode.
These then, that summer, were the Smokies, my first mountains. I came back to say good-bye to my friends at camp and be present at the closing night banquet where many tears flowed freely from those parting with such dearly loved friends. I wonder how much of this outpouring was not simply the adolescent need to have as many emotions as possible. I loved everybody there the minute I didn’t have to see them any longer...
It was the mountains that lingered with me. Their lofty outline against evening skies, the rosy corona the sunset left as it faded, seemed when I withdrew from it irreplaceable. Surprising myself, I longed to return, to have it back once more. For both air and atmosphere are singularly different up there in that region around Asheville. And Asheville itself grew importantly larger for me as I read more and found one afternoon, absorbed beneath the trees in the front yard in Mississippi, how a young man named Thomas Wolfe had grown up there, lived along its streets, known its people and climbed into the sunlit mountain stillness hand in hand with his first love.
— From Close to Home: Revelations and Reminiscences by North Carolina Authors, ed. Lee Harrison Child (Winston-Salem: John F. Blair, 1996), 48-50.
Footbridge on the Warren Wilson campus, Swannanoa
Warren Wilson College, the largest institution in Swannanoa, has a distinctive undergraduate curriculum and one graduate level program — in creative writing. Designed and initiated by Ellen Bryant Voigt at Goddard College in 1976, the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing was the first low-residency graduate program in writing in the country, giving adult professionals the opportunity to earn their degrees while keeping their day jobs. Every six months creative writing students gather on the Warren Wilson campus to study with distinguished authors who regularly teach at other colleges and universities across the county. For 10 days, M.F.A. candidates work intensively in groups, hear faculty lectures that are open to the general public, give readings of their work and plan their next six months’ work with their primary faculty adviser, work that will be discussed by correspondence. Each June, the public is invited to participate in Weekend @ Wilson, featuring a wide variety of workshops and activities for all ages, from comedic storytelling to kayaking to fiber arts.