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The Daily Tar Heel
Tales from the Old North State

N.C. Writer Series: Funny woman Celia Rivenbark

North Carolina produces some of the country’s best writers, receiving national acclaim for both its authors and the works they write.

To compile a list of the best North Carolina literature we went straight to the source, asking authors from around the state to share their own favorite works. For the duration of our N.C. writers series Tales From the Old North State will share the top picks from a different North Carolina author each installment.

Celia Rivenbark

North Carolina writer Celia Rivenbark knows all about southern humor and funny stories.

Rivenbark grew up in a small country house in Duplin County. After college she worked for her hometown paper, the Wallace Enterprise before writing creative humor columns for The Wilmington Morning Star and later The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

In 2000, Coastal Carolina Press gathered a collection of her columns and published them as her first book, “Bless Your Heart, Tramp,” which nominated for the James Thurber Prize in 2001.

Since then, she has published six more books, and her combination of southern humor and wit has helped her receive many awards. Her her sixth book, “You Don’t Sweat Much for a Fat Girl,” landed on the New York Times Best Seller List.

Elevated humor

Rivenbark first chose “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” by writer David Sedaris.

Sedaris grew up in Raleigh, a place that provides the basis for some of his works. Since he left the state after graduating from Sanderson High School, he has become one of the country’s most well known humor writers.

“Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” is a collection of short stories that use animals to enact darkly comical morality stories. The collection was published in 2010.

Rivenbark said that humor was a genre of literature that did not always earn critical acclamation, but Sedaris’ writing is often above the criticism.

“David Sedaris kind of elevates humor in a way that demands attention and respect,” she said.

“He just has a wonderful way of leaving a story in such a way that you never want it to end.”

Accessible and relatable

Rivenbark also chose Jill McCorkle’s latest book “Life After Life.”

McCorkle taught writing at UNC-Chapel Hill and now teaches it in the MFA program at North Carolina State University.

“Life After Life” follows the intertwining stories of retirement home residents and the people who care for them. The result is a story about rediscovering life that has wit and heart.

“The book could have been really dark and depressing, but she used a lot of humor throughout,” Rivenbark said. “I thought it was a really great novel.”

Rivenbark said one of McCorkle’s talents was her ability to make things simple and easy to understand.

“She is so gifted at making even the most complex things accessible and relatable.”

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