08/19/12 — Famous N.C. author to speak at local literacy wine benefit

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Famous N.C. author to speak at local literacy wine benefit

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on August 19, 2012 1:50 AM

A famous North Carolina author will headline a benefit in September designed to raise money to help battle illiteracy in Wayne County.

Margaret Maron will speak at Reading Between the Wines, sponsored by Literacy Connections.

The group is trying to raise funds to buy program materials and other items to assist local adults who are learning to read.

The event is set for Sept. 8 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Crone family home at 1923 Salem Church Road. Tickets are $60 per person and include wine, heavy hors d'oeuvres and an evening of readings not only by Mrs. Maron, but also by poet Shelby Stephenson and Goldsboro's own Emily Weil.

In addition to talking about her life as a writer, Mrs. Maron will also share excerpts from her novels, which she said are designed not only to spark the reader's imagination, but also to inform.

"What I hope people will take away from my books is a sense of being entertained, but also a sense of some of the issues confronting North Carolina at this time," she said. "I've written about rampant (and unregulated) growth both here and in the Triangle and in the mountains, acid rain, pollution of our rivers and estuaries, the conflict between coastal entrepreneurs and local natives, sports fishermen and indigenous fishermen, who earn their living with it, race relations, etc."

Mrs. Maron has written 26 novels and two collections of short stories, and has won several major American awards for her mysteries. Her works are on the reading lists of various courses in contemporary Southern literature, and have been translated into 16 languages.

She grew up on her family's two-mule farm a few miles southeast of Raleigh.

After high school and two years of college, Mrs. Maron took a summer job at the Pentagon, then married and lived in Italy before moving to her husband's native Brooklyn, N.Y.

"I had always loved writing ,and for the first few years wrote nothing but short stories and very bad poetry," she said. "Eventually I backed into writing novels about NYPD Lt. Sigrid Harald, mysteries set against the New York City art world."

But the love of her native state and a desire to write about current experiences led to the creation of District Court Judge Deborah Knott, the opinionated daughter of a crusty old ex-bootlegger and youngest sibling of 11 older brothers. And Mrs. Maron and her husband moved back to a corner of the family land.

And the rest is literary history.

She says her heart is planted firmly in the Tar Heel state.

"I've also had people from other states accuse me of being a shill for the North Carolina Board of Tourism because my books are like love letters to the state," she said.


Also scheduled to read is poet Shelby Stephenson.

He grew up on a small farm near Benson, where he and his wife now live.

"Most of my poems came out of that background where memory and imagination play on one another," he said.

Stephenson has written several poems about the mules on the farm and even the tractor. He has also written poems about his father's 35 foxhounds.

"My father had all these dogs, including one named Slobber Mouth, which was before my time," he said. "But I heard all his stories about them. My father was a great storyteller."

Stephenson centered one of his poems around his father's stories.

"Daddy Kills the Varmits" is based on the story of an old farmer who gets his gun and goes out to see what's killing his chickens. It's told from the viewpoint of Stephenson's father.

Stephenson seemed destined to become a poet, even though he grew up in a home where the only books were the Bible and the Sears catalog.

"That was pretty much my life until I was 14," he said. "Literacy is a word I didn't know about growing up."

Stephenson never gave a second thought to writing when he was growing up. The North Carolina poet always thought nobody cared about what he had to say, so he didn't consider a writing career.

But now he loves books, and libraries are his most favorite places in the world.

His first published poem came out in 1973.

Stephenson graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1960, the University of Pittsburgh in 1967 and the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1974. He was a professor of English and editor of Pembroke Magazine until his retirement in 2010.

The state of North Carolina presented him with the 2001 North Carolina Award in Literature. And he has received the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Memorial Award and the Playwright's Fund of North Carolina Chapbook Prize.


The local literary representative will be historian Emily Weil.

Mrs. Weil became interested in writing books when she discovered that there were very few of them available that dealt with Wayne County history.

"Being a compulsive historian, I am always seeking documents that help us understand our local history," she said.

"Writing and selling books seemed a natural way to raise funds for the Wayne County Museum, too. It's easier to sell a book than to make and sell chicken salad," Mrs. Weil quipped.

She began by compiling all the old postcards she could find and described the scenes pictured on them. She then put them together to make an illustrated history of Wayne County.

After that, each time Mrs. Weil found some part of local history that hadn't been written, she would research the subject and write down the information in book form.

She said her favorite topics to write about have been Sherman's March when she discovered that few people realized that 100,000 Union troops had camped in Wayne County at the end of the Civil War. That was compiled into her book "After Sherman's March."

Another favorite subject for Mrs. Weil was Cornwallis' campaign.

"I found that almost nobody knew that the British army came through Wayne County on its way to Yorktown," she said.

Her latest book was a challenge, she said.

"I attempted to document the hundreds of plantations that once dotted the county," Mrs. Weil said. "Many people didn't realize that we had a local plantation society.

"Researching areas like these was truly stimulating to me, and in the process, helped preserve information for future generations."

Literacy Connection of Wayne County director Pat Yates said she hopes that Reading Between the Wines will become the organization's primary annual fundraiser.

Funds raised will be used to buy instructional materials for Wayne County adults who are learning to read. Ms. Yates said the average cost of one adult reading textbook is $20 to $25. So each ticket purchased will provide instructional materials for an adult reading student for a year.

"Most of us take our ability to read for granted," Ms. Yates said. "But think about how much we use reading in our daily life -- medical forms, labels in the grocery store, reading the mail and bank statements, helping our children with homework -- and not being able to read is a tremendous life handicap."

Tickets to Reading Between the Wines may be purchased at the Goldsboro News-Argus, Wayne County Chamber of Commerce or Wayne County Public Library.