Celebrating Southern authors


Former North Carolina Poet Laureate Fred Chappell signs limited edition broadside for Special Collections Curator Jonathan Dembo.

Joyner Library celebrates Southern authors

By Jeannine Manning Hutson

Southern writers were the focus of two events in September at Joyner Library. From an original poem written by a former N.C. poet laureate celebrating a new collection to workshops on creating fiction at the annual literary homecoming, the events celebrated the written word.

On Sept. 7, the library marked the debut of the Stuart Wright Collection with an event opening the exhibit, “Stuart Wright: A Life in Collecting.” Former North Carolina Poet Laureate Fred Chappell, who is a friend of Wright, read a poem he wrote for the occasion.

The Wright Collection consists of more than 3,000 printed works and 5,000 manuscripts and has been in the processing stages at Joyner Library since its acquisition in 2010.

Included in the collection is a pipe used by William Faulkner. Wright donated the pipe to Joyner Library in 2010 in honor of Dr. Thomas Douglass, ECU Department of English associate professor.

Douglass can’t wait to try out the pipe. “Maury York (assistant director for Special Collections) has promised me that I can smoke it. So I plan to read one of my favorite Faulkner passages while I do that,” he said with a laugh.

According to Wright’s information included in the exhibit, Faulkner gave the pipe to his biographer, Joseph Blotner, in 1960 and “smoked it with him, using his Dunhill blend, on several occasions.” Blotner later gave it to Wright in appreciation for his assistance while he was working on a biography of Robert Penn Warren.

Other materials in the collection include first editions of Southern authors such as Warren, Randall Jarrell and John Crowe Ransom and manuscript material including notebooks and letters.

Douglass said the value of having a collection of this size and significance at ECU is thrilling. “This collection is available for students and scholars from across the country to come and use,” he said. “This puts us in the league with other universities that have partial holdings of many of these writers – Emory, Yale, Duke, Vanderbilt, UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC-Greensboro. Our collection completes several of the other universities’ collections. ECU joins them in holding a major collection of 20th century writers.”

He added, “This is the first time Joyner Library has a collection of this value, meaning scholarly value not just monetary value.”

A pipe used by author William Faulkner is among the unique items held in the Joyner Library collection.

The range of material available for study includes first editions, works with margin notes by other Southern writers, galley proofs with the author’s corrections, and books from the authors’ private collections. Douglass noted that Joyner Library now holds 150 books from Robert Penn Warren’s personal library, including many of his books on Faulkner with Warren’s notes on the Southern literary giant, whom he lectured about for years.

Douglass has already begun sending graduate students over to study parts of the Stuart Wright collection. “I’m not sure I know everything that’s in the collection at this point and what we can learn from it. That’s why I’m excited to have it here. Scholars will come and consult. It’s pretty big for ECU to hold these items,” he said.

“The collection also has many Pulitzer Prize winning poets and poet laureates represented,” Douglass said, “In terms of literary history, this collection is unbelievable.”

Wright, a native of North Carolina and graduate of Wake Forest University, lives in Ludlow, England. A noted bibliographer and collector, Wright is best known for his published bibliographies of such noted American writers as A.R. Ammons, James Dickey, Richard Eberhart, George Garrett, William Goyen, Randall Jarrell, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Walker Percy, Peter Taylor and Reynolds Price. Wright developed close relationships with many of the writers represented in the collection.

Also in September, the library presented the 8th annual Eastern North Carolina Literary Homecoming in conjunction with the North Carolina Literary Review. The event offered interactive workshops and panel presentations Sept. 23 and 24 on the theme, “Rewriting Nature: Impacting Change in the Environment.”

The Literary Homecoming kicked off with the presentation of the Roberts Award for Literary Inspiration to Bland Simpson, a professor in the creative writing program at UNC-Chapel Hill, for his significant influence upon the literature of North Carolina, his contribution to musical theatre and his unfailing support of the coastal region of our state. The presentation to Simpson included a musical tribute by Don Dixon and Marti Jones.

“It was fun,” Douglass said of the two-day event. “That’s what I like about the Literary Homecoming, it makes a literary event fun.”

The keynote speaker was North Carolina writer Ron Rash, introduced by his childhood friend Cindy Putnam-Evans, associate dean of the Harriot College of Arts and Sciences.

Cindy Putnam-Evans, associate dean of ECU's Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, introduced childhood friend and keynote speaker Ron Rash, right, at the 8th Literary Homecoming. (Photo courtesy of David Potorti)

Author of “One Foot in Eden,” “Saints at the River” and “Serena,” Rash’s fiction and poetry are centered mainly on the Appalachian region where his family has lived since the mid-18th century. “Serena” received the 2009 Sir Walter Raleigh Award in Fiction from the Historical Book Club of N.C. and the N.C. Literary and Historical Association.

“As NCLR celebrates publishing our 20th issue, we are excited to partner with the Literary Homecoming and bring North Carolina writers from our issues’ pages to ECU,” said Dr. Margaret D. Bauer, Rives Chair of Southern Literature and editor of the North Carolina Literary Review.

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