Map of NC

Map of NC

April 18, 2024

An Interview with Esme Addison
Esme Addison is a fantastic North Carolina author. She has published two books so far in the Enchanted Bay series, a mystery series that follows Alex Daniels after she moves back home to help her family run their apothecary only to discover that her family has ties to a long-ago mermaid. 

Her new book, An Intrigue of Witches, comes out May 7th, and I’ll let her explain more about it below. Her blend of genres is truly delightful and sure to draw in readers. Below she discusses a bit of her writing process and inspiration. Check out our interview with Esme Addison and find all her books listed on the NC Literary Map.

 How long have you been writing and what first inspired you to start writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. The first ‘book’ I wrote was in the 6th grade, and it was an assignment for my Language Arts class. We had to write the story, illustrate it and create the cover out of cardboard. My love affair with books began then. And when I discovered that S.E. Hinton published The Outsiders as a high school student, I was inspired to become an author. I thought – if she can do it as a kid, so can I.

Your new book is set in a fictional town in North Carolina. Can you explain a bit of your process when creating these places? Why North Carolina and do you use real cities and towns to base them off of?

I’m from North Carolina. I love my home state though I have traveled the world and lived in other states for a time. And I enjoy setting my stories in places that feel comfortable for me, like home. Like those decals you see on the backs of cars with the outline of the state of North Carolina with a heart and the words home in the middle? That’s how I feel.

So, there’s always a perfect somewhere in this state for one of my stories. My newest book, An Intrigue Of Witches is located near New Bern. Because my other series is on the coast, I wanted a different setting. It didn’t need to be special so I thought just somewhere in the middle of the state. Much of the story takes place at a living colonial-era museum so I wanted it to be near a real place with American Revolutionary history.

And when I decided to create a scene at Tryon Palace, creating a fictional town near New Bern just seemed natural. Late in the story, I decided I wanted a river to run through the town, and again being near the Neuse just make sense.

As far as how I create the town, it just develops as I write. I can usually see it in my minds eyes. But it always begins with a main street and a historic district. Like always.

My other series, the Enchanted Bay Mysteries is about a family of women descended from the Polish Mermaid Of Warsaw. They own an enchanted herbal apothecary and live in a community of people with and without magical abilities.

They had to be near the ocean, as they draw their magic from the element of water, especially the sea. And since I spent time as a military spouse near Camp Lejeune, I wanted to use a general beach community between Jacksonville and Wilmington, areas I was familiar with.

Your books also all have a magical element. Why have you chosen fantasy for your novels and what do you find the most difficult about building these magical systems?

I’m not sure why I’ve gravitated toward fantasy and science fiction. I’ve written other books that will probably never see the light of day in high school and college. Two were contemporary YA, one was a romcom and the other historical fiction.

But, I always write the book I want to read. And I also want to write something that is unique to me – only a book I can write. My books combine genres and include unorthodox elements by design. I don’t want to write just ‘any ol’ thing’. I want it to really represent my interests as a writer…. Which are eccentric and obscure.

My parents made sure there were plenty books in our home, and I was exposed to classic fiction, and non-fiction that explored new age subjects, conspiracies, hidden histories…all the things I write about.

I really don’t find anything difficult about magical world building. It’s fun and exciting for me to create worlds as I write. I think the actual concern would be if I wasn’t writing in magical elements, would I be interested in the story?

Please give us a quick elevator speech of your new book, An Intrigue of Witches.

When a historian is invited to a small town to find an elusive artifact, she discovers secrets about her heritage and unveils a government conspiracy that stems from North Carolina’s the colonial-era.

You must to do a lot of research on herbal remedies, myths, and history to write your books. What is your research process like for writing a story?

This is true, I do a crazy amount of research. But I do this irrespective of writing. I’m always learning about new things. Sometimes I create ideas for books because I found something while researching and want to explore it more. You could say writing a book gives me a good excuse to research many things.

Mostly I research as I go, falling down several useful research rabbit holes. I take notes and then return to writing. Beyond that, I am always researching something that I know will be useful one day. I screenshot, bookmark and save as PDFs many topics for future reference.

I am an amateur herbalist, so I know a lot about herbal remedies but I still research and confirm information as I write.

The Enchanted Bay series pulls inspiration from Polish legend, specifically the Mermaid of Warsaw. How did you first hear about this? What about this story attracted you to it enough to write a series centered around it?

I’d discovered cozy fantasy and cozy mysteries a couple years prior, and decided I wanted to create my own. I’d married into a first generation Polish family and wanted a story where I could add all the delicious food and baked goods my mother-in-law prepared for me. That was truly my initial motivation.

One of my favorite fantasy mysteries is about a group of witches in Savannah, Georgia so I thought I’d create a series around a Polish bakery and a family of ‘kitchen witches’. However, editors weren’t interested in the idea so I began researching Polish history and mythology trying to find something interesting and different enough to pique my interest.

I’d never heard of the Polish Mermaid Of Warsaw, but I found a wiki page and was immediately fascinated by the story. A quick internet search showed me that not much had been written about the myth, despite the fact that if you travel to Warsaw (as I have) you’ll find mermaid statues and likenesses all over the place.

There was no way I could not not write about this myth. And I was challenged to find a way to write a grounded, practical story about women in a small town that were descended from a mythological creature that was actually flesh and blood. In my story, the characters are genetically mermaid so presenting as everyday humans, but they have some paranormal or magical abilities that come along with that dna. My goal with the Enchanted Bay Mystery series is to answer the question: If the Mermaid Of Warsaw myth was actually true, what would that look like today in our real, contemporary world.

What can you tell us about the third book in the series?

Not too much at this point, I’ll just say that it’s set in the fall, the women are planning an Oktoberfest and the 40th anniversary of a serial killer that stalked the town one summer and was never caught causes problems for the good folk of Bellamy Bay, NC.

As the NC Literary Map, we love supporting and showcasing the authors and literary works of North Carolina. Can you tell us what North Carolina authors or books you would recommend?

One of my favorite NC authors is Sarah Addison Allen. She’s one of the first authors I read that combined small town Southern settings, family dynamics and magical realism – all things I love. And I try to include those elements in my writing as well.


April 1, 2024

An Interview with The Bookhouse

The Bookhouse is an independent bookstore in Winston-Salem, but it is also so much more than that. The owners, Tara Cool and Meghan Brown, told us about how they’ve created a place for gathering and community, as well as books. We were lucky enough to be able to ask them about their store, how they got to where they are, and what makes them stand out. Enjoy learning about The Bookhouse and its owners in the below interview!

You’ve been open for a year now. Has running a bookstore been what you imagined? What’s been the biggest surprise?

We opened our doors in July of 2023, and it has been a crazy ride. We have loved owning/operating a bookstore and getting to know our community. This has been both as fun and as difficult as we expected. We would say that our biggest surprise was the processes for licensing (both for food/drink and alcohol).

What advice would you give to yourself one year ago?

To be patient with ourselves as we navigate owning a business and getting to know our clientele. 

What’s it like running a bookstore with your sister?

It’s bittersweet. It’s great to work on a project together but that also means we don’t get to see each other as much outside of the business. 

For many, owning a bookstore is a dream job. Can you tell us what a typical day at work is like for you?

One day is never the same as another. It’s a lot of fun because we get to talk about the things we love, books, and we get to talk to and get to know our customers. Some days it can be fast-paced and other days it’s very chill. We are checking in inventory, helping customers find books, and running the bar. 

What are some of your favorite memories of books?

Meg: I remember when Tara was little, and she would bring me piles of books to read to her in the living room. She will say she never liked reading before Harry Potter but it is one of my fondest memories of books and being a big sister to Tara.

Tara: I actually don’t remember liking to read when I was younger. I used to hate going to the library in elementary school, but one summer my babysitter read the first Harry Potter book to us and I was hooked. I haven’t stopped reading since.

I see that you do a lot of events with North Carolina authors. How do you find and choose who to invite? Is there someone you haven’t had at the store that you would love to invite?

It is mostly just through building relationships. We get to know many local authors that come into the store, or through our customers. We would love to host Sarah McCoy. She has been a great supporter and friend! We would also like to host Adrienne Young and Hugh Howey. 

What makes your bookstore unique? Do you have any types of books that you specialize in?

What makes our store unique is that we are not only a bookstore. We offer local craft beers, wine, coffee teas, and grab-and-go snack items. We also have some locally sourced baked goods available. We are designed to be a gathering place for the community and often host live music and other events.

You’re not originally from Winston-Salem, so what brought you there and what led you to stay? How have you built your own community within it?

Meg: I moved here to be closer to family (although I did leave quite a bit of family in NY at the same time) but we also felt like there were better opportunities for my family here. We have established a love for the city and our community, my family is thriving here. Of course, The Bookhouse is just one of the anchors keeping us here.

Tara: I moved here about seven years ago to be closer to family as my parents relocated here for a job. I quickly fell in love with Winston-Salem. It is the perfect sized city. We have a lot of revitalization happening and there is a lot to do, but the community is small enough that you will run into people you know when you are out and about. We have a fun arts culture and so many great outdoor spaces, that it was easy to settle in and make this place home. I have built community through my church, the places I have worked, and of course The Bookhouse. We are so blessed to be able to meet many different kinds of people and get to know our community better!

The mission of the NC Literary Map is to share and promote the literary heritage of our state, which is not unlike what a bookstore aims to do. How do you think organizations like us can work together to both achieve our goals?

There are so many ways to do this, but I think it really boils down to education. One thing we try to do is to host local authors often, but we also love to feature other North Carolina authors in the store. I love Wiley Cash, and I recently learned that one of his inspirations was John Ehle. I had never heard of John before, but now I am hooked. I love to tell my customers about him and help them learn a little more about our North Carolina authors. By continuing to learn about our North Carolina authors, we can connect people with authors in their preferred genre.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our followers?

We are more than a bookstore. We are also a gathering place. We love to discuss with our customers what they are reading, make recommendations, get recommendations, and share a little life together. We are designed to create a space where people can come together, and the bar really facilitates that. We offer coffee, tea, beer, wine, and small baked goods/snacks that encourage people to linger and gather.

As the NC Literary Map, we love supporting and showcasing the authors and literary works of North Carolina. Can you tell us what North Carolina authors or books you would recommend?

·         The Unmaking of June Farrow by Adrienne Young

·         Wool by Hugh Howey

·         Sun Eater Series by Christopher Ruocchio

·         Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

A Land More Kind Than Home – Wiley Cash

November 16, 2022

An Interview With The Roasted Bookery

North Carolina Literary Map was given the opportunity to interview The Roasted Bookery! They are the only Black-owned independent bookstore in Wilmington, North Carolina. The Roasted Bookery is owned by Jerry and Erin Jones, and actively works to spotlight inclusive/diverse Young Adult and Children's literature. Read more about Jerry and Erin's venture in this interview!

Why do you think the North Carolina Literary Map is important for bookstores?

Digital information by its very nature is fragmented and siloed. More often than not, a trusted source of information is necessary to collate that information and present it in a neutral and non-biased format. This is even more true for independent bookstores as we typically don’t have the resources to blast our presence across all digital platforms and really rely on word of mouth and relationship based conversions. The NC Literary Map serves the purpose of gathering all of this information and planting it in one, trusted location so that we (indieshops) can be found. Plus, it has the added bonus of amplifying our presence. Tell us more about your store, including its history and location. 

Why did you choose North Carolina?

Jerry and I are both former teachers who left the profession last year.  We decided to make the jump into small business and fulfill a dream of owning a bookstore.  We started as an online only and have moved to pop ups around our town, Wilmington.   We are looking for a brick and mortar as well in order to complete our dream.  This has proved challenging, but we really love being in the community with our pop ups and feel we will have a strong following by the time we do move into a building.  Wilmington has been our home for almost 22 years and we don’t see leaving in the near future.  We are both from North Carolina.

What is unique about your bookstore? Also, what types of books does your store stock and specialize in?

We have a carefully curated selection of books that highlight BIPOC and LGBTQ+ characters and authors.  We believe that representation matters in life and in literature.  People who see themselves, and really see people who are not like themselves, as protagonists in books allow for stronger connections to community and greater critical thinking skills.  

What’s your favorite section of the store?

Jerry - My favorite section of the store is our science fiction and fantasy collection. Fundamentally, I’ve almost always preferred books that talk about what the world could be like. I read stuff like Tolkien, David Eddings, Glenn Cook, etc. Of course, I devoured The Wheel of Time, though when I first started that series there were only…5 or 6 books out, maybe? That is what I had access to in our local library in Bladenboro, NC where I grew up. Finding a world of fantasy and science fiction where the authors looked like me and the characters authentically sounded like me was mind-blowing. I love books steeped in west African mythology and Afrofuturism. Okorafor and Adeyemi come to mind. “Next” on my TBR is the work of Nalo Hopkinson whose work is rooted in the Afro Caribbean diaspora. Rooted in the African American experience is a work like A Song Below Water by Bethany Morrison. Love, love, love. I know that I’m missing a ton but those are the works that are top of mind for me. Oh, how could I leave what I’m currently reading? I’m finishing Cazadora by Romina Garber. It is contemporary fantasy duology that tackles immigration/emigration, gender roles, patriarchy all set against a backdrop of Argentenian folklore. I had just finished Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy, and I needed something different (I almost wrote lighter but that’s the wrong word).

Erin – This is the hardest question.   I primarily read YA fiction and love it all.  I live compilations of short stories (currently: A Phoenix Must First Burn) because you get a taste of many different authors.  I also trend toward dystopian fiction.  This is both a good and bad thing.  Seeing a world that may not be too far off in the future can be terrifying, but also can give a sense of hope (currently listening: Our Missing Hearts).   Books that add a little supernatural or cultural lore to their stories also intrigue me.  Skin of the Sea flawlessly executes the lore of mermaids this way and takes you into a place of magic.   I like books that have messages but aren’t too “preachy”.  This can be found in nonfiction books like Rise Up  and  Stamped, as well as in fiction like Sanctuary and A Song Below Water.  In all of these books, the messages are clear and allow the reader to learn while reading without the feeling of being taught.    It is very hard for me to pick a specific genre, other than YA, as I think there is so much to offer.  If I can get lost in a book or learn something from it, I am 100% in. 

What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to your business?

As a virtual and pop up shop, currently, we work a lot.  I would say we put in at least 40-50 hours a week each.  I am sure this amount of time will increase when we have a brick and mortar, especially in the beginning.  We strive to have a work/life balance since this was one of the reasons we left teaching.  With flexible hours, we are able to spend the time we want with the kids and doing things around the house while balancing our time with the business as well.

Do you think it’s important for a bookseller to be actively involved in the community? If so, how are you involved in your local community?

100000%.  Community is vitally important!  We believe that everyone should be seen and heard, and what better way to live that than by being in the community.  We work to balance our markets at a variety of venues around town.  We work with local businesses and organizations that we feel fit into the culture we strive to promote.  We volunteer at community events and attend small business gatherings offered in town.  We also talk to anyone who walks into our booth, both about books and community issues.  We continue to push ourselves, as we are both homebodies, to be out and about and make community connections and relationships.  This will only help our business to grow.

March 9, 2022

An Interview with Dog-Eared Books

In honor of Women's History Month, the NC Literary Map had the opportunity to interview a female-owned online bookstore that is located in Raleigh, NC. Dog-Eared Books was co-founded and owned by Stephanie Stegemoller. In interviewing Stephanie, she shows flexibility, determination, and creativity independent bookstore owners have in the face of the COVD-19 pandemic.

1. Why do you think the North Carolina Literary Map is important for bookstores?

    North Carolina Literary Map is important for bookstores because it's another avenue for customers to find independent bookstores to support. 

2.  Tell us more about your store, including its history and location.  Why did you choose North Carolina?

    My friend Caitlynne and I (Stephanie) started Dog-Eared Books in Raleigh in the spare bedroom of her house, in August 2016. We sold on Amazon and went to the NC Fairgrounds once a month selling books for $1 to build our social media presence. In April 2017, we opened our brick-and-mortar. During COVID, we had to close our brick-and-mortar, but started selling books on our own website Caitlynne left the business in December 2021. Our brick-and-mortar is still closed, but we sell online through our website, Amazon, Biblio, Bookshop, and Libro. Orders can be picked up or shipped nationwide. 

3. What is unique about your bookstore? Also, what types of books does your store stock and specialize in?

Our bookstore is women-owned and operated. We're exclusively an online seller with thousands of titles on our website, Amazon, and Biblio. All orders placed through these avenues are picked, packaged, and shipped by members of our team. Our most popular sections are adult fiction and kids books of all types. 

4. If you had infinite space what would you add?

    Infinite space for us would mean more room for our online inventory. 

5. What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?

    There was a small library in my hometown that we would occasionally visit. I don't remember a specific visit, but memories being there remind me of the smell and the sound of the creaking floors as I walked through the shelves. 

6. What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?

    Owning a bookstore is a lot less romantic than it's described in books. There is a lot of physical labor involved (books are heavy!) with unloading our shipments of new inventory, and shelving, packaging, and shipping our orders. 

7. If you weren’t running or working at a bookstore, what would you be doing?

    I often think about this question and right now, I'm not entirely sure. I've loved my life these past few years and the lifestyle I've been able to have while owning a bookstore. I used to do more acting (I did some training a few years back), so maybe I'd try to go on more auditions. 

8.  What characteristics do you think a person needs to be a successful independent bookstore owner? What has been the key to your success?

    The most important part of owning any business is motivation. You have to be self-motivated. You have to understand that just because you "can" miss work doesn't mean you should. No one is holding you accountable, but yourself. On the same note, it has always been very important to me to take the time when I need to especially when it involves family (holidays, family vacations, etc.). If you don't allow yourself some time off, you'll burn out. Finding a balance between hard work and taking time off is key.

9. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to your business?
    I usually work from about 8a-2p everyday. I take one 15 minute lunch break. The first hour is usually catching up on emails, messages, bills. After that, I'll go through my supply sorting into different categories for further processing which my staff handles. The rest of the day is spent adding new inventory to our online platforms. Every other Wednesday I'm out picking up more books from my supplies. 

10. What do you think the future looks like for independent booksellers?

    COVID did a real number on many small business. Those that survived had to adapt to this new environment. I believe that if independent brick-and-mortar bookstores have made it this far, they will be just fine. Even though we had to close our brick-and-mortar, I feel lucky to have remained "open" for my customers so they still have access to cheap books. There is something special about holding a book in your hand and reading it and I believe enough people recognize that. The push to "shop small" and "support local" is encouraging to independent bookstores. 

11. Do you think it’s important for a bookseller to be actively involved in the community? If so, how are you involved in your local community?

    I think being active in the community is important for booksellers. We've been donating to local schools and non-profits since we started. It helps to get your business's name out there, but also spreads the love of reading. I love knowing where our kids books go because if you can get a child to fall in love with reading, it will change their life. 

12. Who is one author you’d like to have dinner with, dead or alive?

    Lemony Snicket would be an interesting person to have dinner with. I loved The Series of Unfortunate Events as a child and it always intrigued me that he never had a picture of himself in the "about the author" section or if there was, his back was turned. 

13. Is there anything else you’d like our followers to know?

    Our bookstore is located in Raleigh, NC. If you're looking for cheap, gently used books, we're a great option. We offer free porch pick-up for the locals or shipping nationwide. I also created a couple of videos to teach customers how to support small businesses while shopping on Amazon and Biblio. Both videos can be found on the website

Thank you again Stephanie for allowing the NC Literary Map to interview you and please check out Dog-Eared Books for your next book!

February 25, 2022

An Interview with Golden Fig Bookstore

Greetings and Happy Friday! The pandemic has impacted all of us, especially small businesses. The NC Literary Map will be utilizing the blog to interview independent bookstores in NC. The first of these bookstores we will be interviewing is Golden Fig Books, located in Durham NC. The store has been around since 2019 and owner, David Bradley, took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions. Thank you David!

1.      Why do you think the North Carolina Literary Map is important for bookstores?

·        I think the NC Literary Map is important for all book lovers! But particularly for bookstores because it's another way for people to find us if they want to support independent bookstores but don't quite know where to start. It's also a great way to see the deep literary history of our state!

2.      Tell us more about your store, including its history and location.  Why did you choose North Carolina?

·        Golden Fig is located right in the heart of Durham in the same building as the renowned bakery and restaurant Guglhupf! I went to UNC for college in 2007 and fell in love with the Triangle, so it's been where I've worked and lived for over a decade now and I knew it would be the perfect place to open up a bookshop. Golden Fig's primary focus is on gently used books, but we also highlight a selection of new books and children's books. We're a small shop (about 1,000 square feet) so we focus on filling our shelves with a highly-curated selection of titles we love. I opened the Fig in May of 2019, so we were not quite a year old when the pandemic hit. Thankfully, though, I had our website up and running before the store opened and customers ordering new books and browsing our entire used book selection on our website was instrumental in getting us through the months when we were closed for browsing. Now we're open for browsing again and are hoping to start having author readings and other events as we get the pandemic under control (fingers crossed).

3.      What is unique about your bookstore? Also, what types of books does your store stock and specialize in?

·        The Fig is unique in our selection and display of used books. We specialize in gently used books so a lot of the time people don't even realize our books are used until they check the price and see that it's half what they were expecting! We go to great lengths to find books for the store, so even though we are pretty picky about the condition of books we bring in, we still make sure we have a diverse and interesting selection of titles for people to peruse.

4.      What’s your favorite section of the store?

·        I almost feel like I should say the Children's section as that was where I slept in the weeks leading up to the store opening when I had too much to do to go home for the night. But my favorite section to look through is probably SciFi/Fantasy as that's one of my favorite genres to read and it's also right next to our curved wall of used fiction which might be my favorite physical feature of the store.

5.      If you had infinite space what would you add?

·        More books, obviously! We certainly use the Fig's smaller stature as a strength by curating and selecting as well as we possibly can but, as a book lover with hundreds and hundreds of books in my house, I will always have a desire for more books. Throw in a pizza oven and I probably wouldn't ever leave the shop.

6.      What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?

·        This is tough because my brain has not done a good job of retaining childhood memories, so I'm going to cheat and say it was my post-college bookstore road trip where I visited 44 independent bookstores across the country. I partnered with Algonquin Books (a publisher right in Chapel Hill) and wrote little feature articles about the bookstores I visited. It was this trip that really cemented my love of independent bookstores and my desire to be a bookseller which eventually led me to opening Golden Fig Books!

7.      What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?

·        The community! If you had told me that there'd be a pandemic within the first year we opened I honestly would not have expected to still be here. But the support from the community has been absolutely amazing and that's honestly the only way that we've been able to survive. Durham is an incredible city and seeing how many people have gone out of their way to lend us support and encouragement has really blown me away.

8.      If you weren’t running or working at a bookstore, what would you be doing?

·        Haha, this is the hardest question on here. I've been so focused on working in bookstores, saving up for the Fig, or actually opening it that I kinda can't imagine my life without it. I'll say that, without bookselling, I would have really honed my super rusty juggling skills and joined Cirque Du Soleil.

9.      What characteristics do you think a person needs to be a successful independent bookstore owner? What has been the key to your success?

·        I'm not sure that I'd say I've had success yet, honestly. I think the Fig is in a good place and heading in a good direction, but I don't think I'll call it a success until I'm able to pay myself and my employees not just a living wage, but a robust wage, while still providing the kind of customer service and community events that I envisioned when I first opened the store. Of course, like everything, the pandemic has had a major effect on what has been possible for us in these first few years so I'd say that the most important characteristic for independent bookstore owners to have is flexibility and a willingness to roll with the punches when the unexpected occurs.

10.   What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to your business?

·        Well the first two years I was the only one working at the shop, so I would be manning the counter for all 50+ hours the store was open each week and then would spend a lot of my free time working on the website, cleaning the shop, responding to emails, and searching everywhere for good used books to stock our shelves. Fortunately I now have a store manager, Es, who is a superstar and has helped me live a more balanced life. So now I spend closer to 30 hours a week at the shop and then do another 15-20ish hours of the more behind-the-scenes administrative work.

11.   What do you think the future looks like for independent booksellers?

·        After the way the last two years have gone I don't feel confident at all in making predictions about the future, but overall I think things are in a really positive place for independent bookstores. Not many people know but, prior to the pandemic, the number of independent bookstores in the country had grown for 8 or 9 consecutive years. I think people have come to realize that bookstores can be magical places of discovery and are important for creating and nurturing a community so they've really shown up to support the stores they care about. And Durham is a great example of a community doing exactly that.

12.   What advice do you have to offer to an author who would like to conduct an event at your store?

·        Well first I guess I'd say wait until the pandemic is under control enough for us to be comfortable doing events. But, aside from that, the biggest thing for us is that the author is interested in developing and maintaining a relationship with us and with the community. The Triangle is such a creative and artistic place so we have the good fortune of lots of local authors but that also means we have to be quite selective about the events that we host. So we're always going to be more likely to work with an author who has shown interest in us or in our community beyond just having their book featured. I'm actually in the midst of reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer which speaks so much about the ideas of giving and reciprocity, and that's very much how we like to operate with our local authors. It's about building relationships and community rather than simply selling a few books on a particular night.

13.   Do you think it’s important for a bookseller to be actively involved in the community? If so, how are you involved in your local community?

·        So this is actually a tricky question to me. The short answer is that, yes, it always helps for booksellers to be involved in their community as that exposes us to more people and ideas, which allows us to bring in books that speak to the specific problems our community may be facing.

·        However, I also think an expectation of community involvement outside of the job, especially in any specific capacity, is a rather dangerous prospect. Our store manager, Es, recently told me about the concept of Vocational Awe, which specifically relates to librarians but I feel has a fair amount of crossover to booksellers as well. It's the idea that, by considering libraries sacred places of inherent good, librarians become emotionally invested in their work as their primary sense of identity and feel encouraged to always do more and more and more for their jobs, despite low pay and at the expense of work/life balance. In the end, being a librarian or a bookseller is a job. It's a job that I love and believe is very valuable, but there shouldn't be anything required of booksellers beyond doing their job well.

14.   Who is one author you’d like to have dinner with, dead or alive?

·        I'm going to have to go with Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar had a huge impact on me when I was in college and struggling with depression without knowing what it was. It was the book that helped me understand what I was going through and figure out who I am, in a way. Plus I think Plath's writing is so beautiful, I could probably read anything by her and be amazed, so I'd love to know what she was like in person. The Bell Jar was also the inspiration behind the store's name so I'd love to share that with her.

15.   Is there anything else you’d like our followers to know?

·        I think I've rambled on quite long enough so I'll just say thanks for taking the time to read this and thanks to everyone who's supported the Fig in these turbulent times!

Would you like to visit Golden Fig? They are located at 2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd Durham, NC 27707. On their website, you can view the books they are selling, so if you can't make it in person, you can buy from them online. 

April 19, 2021

“It Becomes Its Own Living Thing”: An Interview with North Carolina Poet Terry Kennedy

by Emma Bornstein (Social Media Intern) In celebration of National Poetry Month, I had the honor of meeting with North Carolina poet Terry Kennedy. He is the author of a poetry collection, New River Breakdown, which is hailed by poet Kelly Cherry as “an elusive and haunting narrative of loss, love, and recovery.” While Kennedy grew up moving around the country, he has called North Carolina “home” for the last 20 years. More precisely (with his flair for writerly homages): “As Fred Chappell says, I’ve ‘put my roots down in Greensboro.’” Kennedy is the Director of the MFA Writing Program at University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and editor of The Greensboro Review and storySouth. With its sprinklings of writer trivia, humor, and shape-shifting poems, I hope you enjoy this conversation with an enchanting local poet! --- (This interview is edited for length and clarity.)

Emma Bornstein: We like to ask all our author interviewees this question: Why do you think the North Carolina Literary Map is important for authors? 

Terry Kennedy: Outside of its natural archival and teaching purposes, I feel like the NC Literary Map is important as a record of North Carolina’s changing landscape and culture.  If you dig into the work of Doris Betts, Fred Chappell, Jacki Shelton Green, Randall Kenyan, Jill McCorkle, Reynolds Price . . . you’re not only reading great literature, you’re learning about the landscape, how places and things looked, what people ate, how they talked. These things get lost over time. But with the Map, they are, in many ways, still living. 

Bornstein: If you could pick any poet to eat dinner with, dead or alive, who would it be?

Kennedy: Since we’re talking about the Lit Map, I would say I’d love to have another dinner with Robert Watson. Bob was a great storyteller. And not just stories about the other interesting poets and writers he met and hung around with. He and his wife, the painter Betty Watson, traveled all over the world. His baby doctor was William Carlos Williams. One time, some of the kids from the Manson family brought him and Betty a plate of homemade cookies. Of course, they didn’t know who they were at the time. They thought they were just these nice hippie kids that lived on the farm down the road.

Bornstein: What does your writing process look like? How long does it take you to write a poem?

Kennedy: I’m a very slow writer. I might work on a poem for 5-10 years before I send it to a literary magazine for consideration. And even then, I would probably tell you that it’s not finished. There are poems in my first book, New River Breakdown, that I’m still editing. But back to the first part of the question: it’s important for me to move between mediums while I’m drafting a poem. I always start by writing longhand in some notebooks my wife makes for me. And then I move to my Uncle’s manual typewriter. It’s a 1950’s Royal Portable. I have several typewriters, but that one is my favorite. And then I’ll move back to longhand again. That switching around forces me to think about the poem in different ways. Interesting things happen subconsciously when you write by hand. And the typewriter forces you to really think about the terminal edge of the page and, by association, the length of the lines in your poems. 

Bornstein: What’s the biggest myth about writing or reading poetry?

Kennedy: For me, the biggest myth about poetry is that it’s hard to understand; that there’s some magic key to unlocking a poem's meaning. Poems are not mysteries to be unlocked. And outside of the completely artificial world of academia, they do not have any more inherent meaning than the redbud tree outside of my office window. An author might have a specific idea or intent when writing a poem, but once it leaves the author's desk and goes out into the world, it becomes its own living thing. And a thing that changes with each person it encounters. When I read a poem, that poem mixes with all of my expectations and experiences and becomes something new. The same thing happens when you read that same poem. Your expectations and experiences change that poem yet again. This is how poems travel through time; why something written by Shakespeare or Emily Dickinson can still be relevant in 2021.

Bornstein: Where do you get your inspiration or ideas for your poems?

Kennedy: The poems in my new manuscript use the natural world as a vehicle for describing the inner world of the speaker. Nothing new there, but, while working on the poems, I did spend a lot of time looking at the landscape. How the light changes as it sifts through the trees across the day. What the grass looks like after a quick summer rain. And also thinking about how the landscape has changed over time. How a hill that has been stripped bare because of construction, fills back in. And along those lines trying to remember what it looked like before. 

Bornstein: What advice do you often give to new writers?

Kennedy: The most important thing for new writers to do is read. Read everything. And read widely. Read The Norton Anthology, read collections of poems (from both the small and micro presses as well as the big houses), read literary journals. It’s important to understand the range of what is being written as well as what has been written. In the very big picture, poetry is a conversation. You can’t be a part of the conversation without knowing what’s being said.

Bornstein: What, in your opinion, makes a good poem?

Kennedy: That’s an easy one. If it physically moves you—you know, you feel something in your stomach—it’s a good poem.


Terry Kennedy’s book, New River Breakdown, is published and distributed by Unicorn Press. You can also find him on the Map.