Reading Matters

With so many Charlotte novelists now, the old must-read guilt vanishes

I recently stumbled on an old column I wrote about Charlotte novelists and how they don’t hang around town very long. The year was 1997.

We’d recently lost three: Robin Hemley, Nanci Kincaid and Fred Leebron. Each had published with a major New York house, and each had taught at UNCC. Over five years, one by one, they flew our coop for far-flung states, though Leebron has long been back as director of the Queens University low-residency MFA program.

At the time, we still had former WBTV anchor Bob Inman (“Home Fires Burning,”), though he’s since moved to Conover. And we’d had the late Simmons Jones, whose novel, “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” came out in 1992.

Those leaving complained of heavy teaching loads, too little pay, lack of an MFA program at UNCC.

What seemed to hurt the most back then was lack of public support. Leebron said only one colleague read his novel and talked to him about it. He gave readings all over the country. But UNCC didn’t invite him to read. Neither did Davidson College, Winthrop University in Rock Hill or Queens.

So I made the point that perhaps Charlotte, so enthralled with Carson McCullers’ house on East Boulevard, was more comfortable with a Dead Novelists’ Society than a live one.

That was so wrong-headed of me. Because we had so few novelists, I was operating from a trough of scarcity. I wanted you to cherish them, fatten them, keep them.

Then, suddenly, we were cooking. Judy Goldman came out with two novels. Dori Sanders with “Clover.” Before long, Alan Michael Parker and Anthony Abbott of Davidson and Sarah Creech of Queens University. Aaron Gwyn of UNCC. Mark deCastrique. Dot Jackson. Peg Robarchek. Jon Buchan. Mark Ethridge. Pat MacEnulty.

Now look at us – we’re operating from plenty: Amber Smith, Megan Miranda, Joy Callaway, Kim Wright, Webb Hubbell, Renee Ahdieh, Myra Johnson. Erika Marks, Mary Beth Mayhew Whalen, Russ Dymond, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Linda Vigen Phillips, Dustin M. Hoffman.

And in 2018, Charlotte physician Kimmery Martin will explore the friendship between a trauma surgeon and a pediatrician in her novel “Trauma Queen.”

Never read a novel out of guilt, no matter who wrote it or where they live. Read for pleasure. Read for entertainment. Read who and what you like when you like.

However, if you should happen to be looking for a great book...

dpowell@charlotteobserver.com

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