2018 NC Award Winner for Literature: Michael McFee



the best writing that I do is a gift to where I am in the sense that it's paying attention to where I am the beauty of living here in Chapel Hill and Durham is you've got three hours on where the other and you're in a totally different landscape and I think North Carolina's fairly unique to have that range because each landscape has a different culture a different barbecue a different accent what a gift to have that and to have been worn here was a real stroke of luck as a rider I was born in Nashville and grew up south of town and a little crust roads called Arden once I got done here I realized I miss having the mountains at the horizon also my family the people I knew their people from Appalachia really are a bit different from others so I guess I was absorbing things without realizing I was absorbing them for writing because I did not set out to be a writer I thought I wanted to be an architect and sort of college at NC State to do that but once I made my way into a porti writing class here at Chapel Hill I started thinking about what really interested me what I tell my students is you're looking for the thing you can't not do the thing just you've got to do with your life and I just really enjoyed playing with words in that way and making these little word worlds called poems I think the first fire in the class was about a fire tower on the Blue Ridge Parkway I've kept writing poems and essays about the mountains ever since I'm most always inspired by things around me and daily life things I see or hear and I always carry in my pocket a piece of paper that I write notes on heard a series of poems about stuff I ate when I was a kid that I don't eat anymore you know like uh saltines which we just ate all the time Graham's like our hors d'oeuvres or how he would salt watermelon when we ate it juicy watermelon on a picnic table that seedy red meat sweaty with melting crystals a lot of poems are rooted in memories and those memories are always really sensory and specific it's not like I think I want to write a poem about the meaning of family I could not write that poem but if I can write a poem about my weird uncle or the or how my mother used to say I Swan a swan I got to pull him out of that just out of the language that she used when I have a student come in who's from some small town in North Carolina if you can help show that student that you don't need to write poems about nightingales and sort of more English Lit kinds of things but their poems back home where you're from often the results can be amazing to see younger writers really getting engaged with the possibilities of the language and of imagery and of the structure of the poem it helps remind me why I got into it in the first place especially with the students at Carolina they want to make a difference in the world and for some of them that's been to be a writer I've read poems at their weddings I just became the godparent to one of their children and we become a family my mentor and late colleague Doris Betts used to say the literary community in North Carolina is cooperative and not competitive we're happy for the successes of our fellow writers I love going out into the state and reading or talking with not just fellow professors and writing students but other North Carolinians I think many of us are raised or thought the poetry's are in a kind of code that you have to have the secrets to unlock it's true the poetry has a mysterious quality to it but it's not a secret code if you're somebody who enjoys words you can enjoy poetry you

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