Literary illuminati and lovers of literature alike gathered Sunday for a celebration of N.C. writing as the 10th year of the Second Sunday Readings kicked off at the Carolina Inn.
The Second Sunday Readings, a series that hosts two N.C. writers each month, is sponsored by the North Caroliniana Society, the North Carolina Collection in Wilson Library and UNC's own Creative Writing Program in the Department of English.
Over the course of a decade, the format for the readings developed: two writers would read roughly 30 minutes. The readings are followed by refreshments and a book selling.
But the event originally began as a rough idea.
"Doris Betts and H.G. Jones, who was the curator of the North Carolina Collection, and I started talking in 1990, 1991 about the fact that there were so many good writers in North Carolina, and they needed a forum to be heard, or just to make them better known to the public," said Michael McFee, the event's coordinator and a UNC poetry professor.
This idea evolved into a series of free public readings every month in Wilson Library. By the end of this year, 122 readers, all with ties to North Carolina, will have participated in the series. Only two people, Betts and John Justice, have read more than once.
At Sunday's celebration, all past readers were invited back to be honored and more than half of them were able to be in attendance.
Betts, a former UNC fiction professor and the event's first coordinator, read at the first reading in 1992. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary, she read again Sunday, sharing her newest short story, "The Lawn Ornament."
"Doris has been such a champion of North Carolina literature, which is why I wanted her to be at this Sunday's reading," McFee said.
He said the event's coordinators realized there were so many good writers that they should try to ask everyone once before asking people to read a second time. Soon, he said, it became a challenge.
"Could we keep going and have very good writers without repeating? The answer has been yes."
UNC poet Michael Chitwood, who read in the 1994-95 series, agreed.
"That's an incredible testament to the vitality of North Carolina literature. It also has produced an incredible archive of tapes that are now a part of the North Carolina Collection," he said.
The participating writers all are affiliated with North Carolina, but some of them -- "North Carolina writers in exile," or writers who no longer live in the state -- have traveled from as far as Brooklyn, N.Y., Nashville, Tenn., and Massachusetts to participate in the series.
All the writers have published books with New York publishing houses, leading Southern houses or university presses, McFee said.
Throughout the years, well-known writers such as Fred Chappell, Lee Smith, Reynolds Price, Daniel Wallace, Clyde Edgerton, Robert Morgan, Tony Earley and Kaye Gibbons also have participated.
McFee said that not only is the North Carolina literary scene thriving, but there is something special about it that separates it from any other community of writers he's ever known.
"People look at North Carolina and say, `You guys have the most vibrant literary scene,'" he said. "I actually think people are jealous of our literary scene, and the reason for this is that we all get along very well."
"Doris has said many times, and I agree with this, that the literary scene in North Carolina is cooperative rather than competitive."
Perhaps all this cooperative atmosphere has led to what many have dubbed a North Carolina literary renaissance. McFee and Chitwood agree that few states have as many writers of as high a quality as North Carolina.
McFee said, "I truly believe as a scholar of North Carolina literature that there's been this enormous outburst in the last two or three years here, and if literary historians write about this time and place, they're going to look back and say, `What was going on?' because there is so much good stuff being written."
The next Second Sunday Reading will feature Hillsborough-based novelist David Payne and poet and non-fiction writer David Brenden Hopes. The reading will be at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 14 in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room in Wilson Library. The event is free.
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