Reading Matters

N.C. writers: What are they doing?

Lee Smith
Lee Smith Indiebound

Commentary

Does every state produce as many writers as North Carolina? I doubt it. One of my most pleasant tasks is catching up with them.

Tony Earley, for instance, the Vanderbilt novelist from Rutherfordton County. Did you know he has recurring dreams of two small towns in North Carolina – towns so complete in every detail that he often steps into one of the restaurants for a meal?

His last collection of stories was “Mr. Tall,” and he emails that he’s 100 pages “into a novel about a tomato farmer, a blizzard and toxic waste,” with a lot of untranslated Spanish dialogue, a language he doesn’t speak. “So it has been kind of fun to write,” he says.

Charlotte novelist and poet Judy Goldman (her memoir was “Losing My Sister”) is now revising a new manuscript, “What We Can Count On: A Memoir about Marriage, Identity and Forgiveness.” When she married, she says she was not only in love with her husband. She was also in love with the idea of the two growing old together. She didn’t envision a life-rattling change when they were in their 60s.

“That’s when my husband, seeking relief from back pain, had an epidural and was instantly paralyzed from the waist down,” she says. “This split-second medical mishap is the starting point for a look at the changes – major and minor, abrupt and gradual – that take place in every marriage.”

When you ask our poet laureate Shelby Stephenson what he’s working on, you get a pleasant walking tour of his farm outside Benson.

He’d seen a bunny that morning, he emailed me, “headed for the dribblings under the birdfeeder.” And when he walked around the old cow stable, “a fawn was loping to get into a fringe of deep woods.”

But is he writing? Of course he is. Is he not Shelby Stephenson?

Hillsborough’s Lee Smith spent the summer in Maine where she worked on related stories about older people. The proposed title story, “Silver Alert,” is about “an old man who busts out of his nursing home and steals a Porsche and takes to the highway along with a pedicure girl.”

She says she and husband Hal Crowther actually saw a “Silver Alert” billboard flashing across I-95 last year as they were driving home from Key West. “And it really was a Porsche, too – geezer on the lam! Though I have made up the pedicure girl.”

Dannye: dpowell@charlotteobserver.com

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