Map of NC

Map of NC

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.

March 4, 2021

Your Tour Guides to Fictional Places: Watch the Quarantine Tour's Launch Reading

Last month, in partnership with the NC Writers’ Network and North Carolina Literary Review, we launched the NC Quarantine Literary Tour—a virtual tour of fictional places created by nine North Carolina authors.

During the February 18th launch event, attendees were treated to a whirlwind reading by accomplished writers across the state, excerpting their or others' work in imaginary landscapes. From Leah Hampton's peaceful dip into Wilma Dykeman's Thicketty Creek; to Carole Boston Weatherford's disquieting look into Charles W. Chesnutt's insurrectionary Wellington; to Clyde Edgerton's hilarious portrait of Listre residents—it was a night to remember!

If you missed the live event, we have good news: a recording of the reading is now available! Now you can explore the Quarantine Tour with our brilliant tour guides anytime. Access the video of the launch reading here.

And don't forget: you can always take the Quarantine Tour solo on the Map!

February 16, 2021

Introducing the North Carolina Quarantine Literary Tour: An Interview with Ed Southern of NC Writers’ Network

by Emma Bornstein (Social Media Intern)

It’s almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of us are still stuck at home. So if we can’t tour North Carolina’s literary sites in person, why not visit the places that aren’t really there?

In partnership with the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame and North Carolina Literary Review, we’re thrilled to announce the new North Carolina Quarantine Literary Tour—a virtual tour of fictional places created by nine North Carolina authors. This unique experience will be available directly from our website, on our Literary Tours page.

On Thursday, February 18th at 7pm (ET), the North Carolina Writers’ Network is hosting a free online reading to launch the Quarantine Tour. According to NCWN: “During the February 18 event, the Quarantine Tour will ‘stop’ at each site through an excerpt by the place’s creator”—read by a “cross-section” of North Carolina writers—”describing their fictional setting.”

This week, I met with Ed Southern, author and Executive Director of NCWN, to discuss the Quarantine Tour and Thursday night’s reading.

(This interview is edited for length and clarity.)

Emma Bornstein: Tell me about your involvement in the North Carolina Quarantine Literary Tour.

Ed Southern: The way I got involved is that the North Carolina Writers Network oversees the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame [NCLHOF], and I serve on the advisory board for the North Carolina Literary Map. Representing the NCLHOF, I approached the Map about doing this [virtual tour]. And then we brought in Margaret Bauer, [Editor] from North Carolina Literary Review, as a resource for suggestions of places [to include], and also of information about some of these authors and the works in which these places are featured.

Bornstein: Could you tell me a little about the Tour? How did it get started?

Southern: Back in the spring [last year] when we first went into lockdown, we thought it would be fun to present a literary tour to places you can’t actually go, since you weren’t supposed to go anywhere anyway. Fictional locales that were created by authors who have been inducted into the NCLHOF. You can’t really visit Tims Creek, or Altamont, because it doesn’t really exist. So we thought it would be a fun [thing] since people were stuck online.

Honestly, we weren’t able to get it together quickly enough, and we thought: “Well okay, we won’t worry about it, because surely we’ll be out of quarantine in another month or two.” Ha. Then in the fall, when it became obvious that we’re not getting out of lockdown anytime soon, we decided to pick it back up again and put it together.

To reiterate, we hope it’s a fun way to visit the state when you can’t really visit the state.

Bornstein: You talked about the decision behind selecting fictional locations as opposed to real locations. What was the process for deciding which authors to include? Was there anything in particular that drew you to these nine authors?

Southern: The two criteria were that they had created a fictional North Carolina locale for use in their work, and they were inducted into the NCLHOF. But these were all folks [who] came quickly to mind. Most of these locales were fairly famous—even though they’re not real, they’re well-known from these authors’ works. All of Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott mysteries are set in Colleton County. Several of Clyde Edgerton’s books are set in Listre. Thomas Wolfe is famous for creating Altamont, which is very obviously Asheville but not really. If you’re familiar with North Carolina literature, these were fairly easy to come up with.

Bornstein: You mentioned that one of the initial challenges was not knowing how long we were going to be in quarantine. Were there any other challenges that came up when the Tour was being developed, or when you were planning the launch event?

Southern: I think the biggest challenge was finding the time to do this. Everyone was so busy trying to adapt to the changed circumstances. But all of the authors who we contacted were very eager to contribute an excerpt or allow us to use an excerpt. I’m glad to have a couple of them actually reading with us at the Thursday event—Clyde Edgerton and Jill McCorkle will be reading. But then we have other Hall of Fame inductees like Bland Simpson and Carole Boston Weatherford, who will be reading excerpts by other authors as part of this Tour. 

Bornstein: What is something you personally find interesting about the Tour?

Southern: I had a lot of fun looking at the ways that these authors describe these places. Rarely do they stop the narrative to describe the physical setting. Obviously, they’re all in the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, they’re all accomplished authors, they’re all good at what they do. And it was sort of a master class in itself to watch how they work descriptions into the course of the action, and how oftentimes you’d then have descriptions that weren’t physical or geographic. Instead, they were describing people. Randall Kenan, in the excerpt we used from him, he’s describing the food that people cook and eat in Tims Creek—which in some ways is a much more visceral and evocative description than if he had laid out the map of the town.

Bornstein: So it’s very much speaking to the imagined culture, rather than focusing just on the geographical aspect.

Southern: Very much so. It’s wonderful to watch how each of the authors did that. How each of the authors—and this is kind of a cliché—made the reader see the place from their words on the page.

Bornstein: What do you hope people will walk away with from this Tour and Thursday night’s reading?

Southern: I hope they will feel like their imaginations, at least, have journeyed around the state, even if their bodies are stuck at home for a little while longer. I hope, beyond that, that people get a new or renewed interest and appreciation for the breadth and depth of North Carolina writing.


You can register to attend the North Carolina Quarantine Literary Tour launch via NCWN’s website. The deadline for registration is Thursday, February 18 at noon.

Can’t attend the reading? A recording of the event will be available at a later date, and you can take the Tour “solo” anytime on our website.

Sources: “See the State by Not Going to Places that Aren't Really There: Take the North Carolina Quarantine Literary Tour” (8 Feb. 2021). NC Writers’ Network.