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State’s Poet Laureate is Coming to Columbus
By Clara Cartrette
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Poet image 31aug15Columbus County will welcome a state celebrity in September, one whose forerunners have never visited here that anyone can remember.

North Carolina’s poet laureate, Dr. Shelby Stephenson, will visit here for two gatherings. These events are planned by the Reuben Brown House Preservative Society (RBHPS) in collaboration with Columbus County Arts Council and Lake Waccamaw Book Club.

He is scheduled to headline the RBHPS Fall Literary Series, which will take place at the Columbus County Arts Council building Sunday, Sept. 27 at 4 p.m., followed by a picnic supper.

The second presentation is planned for Lake Waccamaw Book Club at the Lake Town Hall Monday, Sept. 28 at 11 a.m.

After growing up on a tobacco farm in eastern North Carolina near Benson, Dr. Stephenson received his undergraduate degree from UNC Chapel Hill, Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. He chaired the English department at Campbell University (formerly Campbell College) for several years and spent 30 years at UNC Pembroke as professor and editor of Pembroke magazine.

Stephenson’s appointment as poet laureate a few months ago was met with universal praise from the North Carolina literary community, where he is recognized as a pillar and widely respected by his peers. He is truly a poet of and for North Carolina. D.G. Martin described Dr. Stephenson as "not content with his personal achievements as a distinguished writer and great musician, but one who has always sought to encourage talented people to share their gifts with others.” He has been called the state’s ambassador for poetry and literature.

Although he never studied writing, the new poet laureate keeps the state’s fast-vanishing rural past alive in verse. He continues to write, often from the front porch of his restored home place near Benson, and his poetry captures the very essence of rural life, especially as it has existed in his lifetime.

Former North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti said of Stephenson: "He can walk out his back door - even in his sleep, it seems, so tithed to the land is his subconscious - and see what lies hidden before our very eyes: in the roods and plowsoles, the tree bark and creek beds, in his beloved spectre ancestors forever singing in his head. He writes about the mystery of the dirt - what it yields, what it reclaims - with more precision and prescience than any poet I can think of.”

Of Stephenson’s latest book, Fiddledeedee, published earlier this year, Bathanti said: "I can hear him now, whispering his sacramental litany, his invocation: ‘it is nothing but a song - the long journey home.’ Fiddledeedee is Shelby at his best. Blessed be his wholly liturgical verse - the bard, the very voice, of North Carolina.”

"He’s just good, both as a person and as a poet,” said Kathryn Stripling Byer, another former state poet laureate. "His poetic voice just flows like a spring. He’s a natural and we really need a voice like his right now with all the divisions we have in this state.”

One of Stephenson’s books, "Plankhouse,” is about the small, older house he lived in until age 14 with three older siblings and his parents. He now lives in the "new house” that was built on the family farm in 1952. The old dwelling is now a family museum with photos dating back a century or more. The farm is now 10 acres but it was 60-plus when he was growing up. It was once 1,100 acres, a land grant from King George III. Before the War Between the States, African-American slaves worked there, one of whom was a 10-year-old girl who Stephenson’s great-great grandfather sold for $413.23 in 1851. Stephenson published a book titled "Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl,” that consisted of a group of poems about slaves, slave owners and slave owning in North Carolina.

The winner of the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, it was described as an intense and heartbreaking poetic narrative which, in its historical and personal materials, holds affinities to the work of Susan Howe and to James Agee’s classic Let Us Praise Famous Men.

Possum won the 2002 Bright Hill Press Poetry Chapbook Competition. Author Fred Chappell, Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 1997– 2002 and an English professor at UNC Greensboro for 40 years, described Possum as "as mysterious mystical and courageous creature, as spooky and suggestive as a half-seen haint.” Betty Adcock, an award winning author and educator who taught at Duke, N.C. State and Meredith, said "Possum is ‘his own legend’ and ‘walks with opposable thumbs on feet of open forms.’”

The RBHPS, Inc. is a nonprofit membership organization with two main objectives: to encourage and promote awareness of, participation in and appreciation for cultural, historic and fine arts events in Columbus County, and to preserve the Reuben Brown House and other historic buildings for community use.

For more information contact Janice Young at 642-7367.

By Clara Cartrette

Article and Images Courtesy of and as Published August 31, 2015 in The News Reporter www.Whiteville.com

The Reuben Brown House Preservation Society is an IRS Code 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Contributions to the RBHPS are fully tax-deductible for federal income tax purposes.

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