Reading Matters

Crazy collections of Carolinas writers

The idea for this intriguing collection of essays, “Carolina Writers at Home” (Hub City Press), grew out of a bad time.

Meg Reid, the book’s editor, was living in novelist Clyde Edgerton’s house in Wilmington while he and his family were on vacation. Her post-grad plan had fallen through. She felt “unmoored, sick with worry about what I would do next.” But as she relaxed, she came to love the house, which contained Edgerton’s secret writing room behind a row of hanging shirts.

Reid liked the idea that a writer might require “a mental conduit or corridor to pass through into a space where thoughts are clearer and the words can flow more freely onto the page.”

And –you guessed it – she birthed the idea for “Carolina Writers at Home,” 25 essays by the writers themselves about home and the strange things that make it so. (The black-and-white photos by Rob McDonald are haunting.)

In these essays, the writers describe their insane collections, the zany things they do, consciously or unconsciously, to lure the muse. Or simply to feel safe enough to take on the daunting and often frightening task of creation.

Otherwise, why did Alan Gurganus of Hillsborough nearly empty his savings for a life-sized plaster Saint Ursula with amber glass eyes cast heavenward? Why 51 Federal-style mirrors, all failing, he writes, or “cataracted”?

Why does novelist and former Observer columnist Dot Jackson live in a rickety trailer at the foot of Table Rock Mountain? Why does she call it Paradise, though a bear rudely barges in every time she fries chicken?

Why does novelist Jill McCorkle of Hillsborough turn to the dollhouse she’s building when she hits a snag in her writing? Why does she keep a clay vase she dug from a drainage ditch in Lumberton?

Why does Josephine Humphreys of Sullivan’s Island, S.C., collect heads – one of Queen Elizabeth, the tiny heads of soldiers and clowns, the sculpted head of an Indian chief “horribly converted into a lamp”?

Why does Columbia poet Nikky Finney keep searching for the right light to write by – “the rose-gold light, the persimmon light, the pearl light of night”?

For Joseph Bathanti, his house in Vilas is an ark of memory, containing “the freight and livery of what has endured our peregrinations” – the sight of his now-grown sons learning to shave or of his late father tapping with his cane across an ice-trussed Linville Creek.

It takes what it takes, as they say. To shelter, to conjure, to dream, to create.