- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - In a story Nov. 27 about the book titled “Amazing Place,” The Associated Press reported erroneously the school at which Marianne Gingher teaches. Gingher teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, not the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

A corrected version of the story is below:

21 authors write about how NC influenced them

Amazing Place: 21 authors write essays about how NC influenced them and their work


Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Writer and editor Marianne Gingher gave 21 authors a wide-open assignment: write about any subject they chose as long as North Carolina was at the core of the story.

What she got for a collection of essays titled “Amazing Place” were stories as varied as the state’s geography and arranged that way, from the mountains to the Piedmont to the coast.

The book, available in March 2015, opens with poet and novelist Robert Morgan, who grew up on a farm in Henderson County. The Green River, woods and thickets framed his childhood. “That sense of intimacy with the place is so strong, I have compared every other place I’ve seen to it, to this day,” writes Morgan, who has taught at Cornell University for more than 40 years.

Gingher opened with Morgan’s piece, titled “Fertile North Carolina,” because he framed the theme of the book so well, she said, crediting Thomas Wolfe’s success with the start of North Carolina’s penchant for harboring great writers.

“I thought his piece really captured the essence of what the initial vision of ‘Amazing Place’ was going to be,” said Gingher, who lives in Greensboro and teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Many writers departed from that and did their own thing, but he really celebrated the place he came from.”

In “Salad Days,” Lee Smith writes about, well, writing in Chapel Hill, which she describes as a “town of the mind, a town of trees and visions.”

“I am always writing a novel in this town,” she writes. “Nobody cares. Nobody bugs me. Nobody thinks a thing about it. Everybody else is writing a novel, too.”

That’s a part of North Carolina’s writing history as well, Gingher said. The state’s best writers - among them Lee Smith, Doris Betts, Reynolds Price, Randall Jarrell and Fred Chappell - also taught. While writing had stature in the state, the writers made writing seem doable by teaching it to others.

“You didn’t have to be a dentist,” she said. “You could be a writer.”

She remembers Jarrell, who once served as what is now known as the poet laureate, teaching a class once a year at Grimsley High School, which she attended. “He was bohemian,” she said. He drove a sports car; he wore tennis shoes. Students hung out the windows to glimpse his arrival.

“He seemed to be a celebrity, but there he was at Grimsley High School,” she said.

Gingher writes about her conventional childhood in Greensboro in her essay “The Capitol of Normal” and how she adjusted her vision that a writer must suffer some misery such as debt or alcoholism in order to really write. “And I would begin to believe that staying where one’s imagination and earliest creative impulses arose and continued to flourish was neither shameful nor something that required apology,” she writes. “Might I even begin to call myself lucky?”

The book includes other well-known authors, such as Chappell, Bland Simpson and Jill McCorkle, but also newer names such as Monique Truong, whose family moved to Boiling Springs after the fall of South Vietnam.

In “Our First Steps,” Truong writes about her father giving her a copy of a book titled “North Carolina People: Stories of History and People” when they moved to the state. She has carried the book with her to the five other states she has lived since then, including New York.

She spoke with her father on the phone in the days after 9/11, as she and her husband drove back to their home in New York City. “He sounded exhausted, though it was we who had driven nonstop for hours, counterintuitively trying to return as quickly as possible to a city that now had another name: Ground Zero,” Truong writes. “What my father did not have to say was that the New World was like the old one, and that now he had no other state to give me.”

Wherever they live, North Carolina follows writers and infuses their writing, Gingher said. You can be a writer anywhere, but “if you have soaked up enough about North Carolina, you’ll still be haunted by it and still be writing about it,” she said.


To pre-order “Amazing Place”: www.uncpress.unc.edu.


Martha Waggoner can be reached at https://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

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