Map of NC

Map of NC

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.