Books are both my escape and my classroom. I find my nights less restful if I don’t spend at least a few minutes with my latest interest before I drift off to sleep. My Scrabble and Upwords games with my husband would surely suffer if I didn’t maintain my vocabulary with the multitude of genres stacked by my bed. I read every single day, but I do not own an e-reader. I still get lost in the writer’s words the old fashioned way—in print. I enjoy the experience of a book. It feels more genuine, drawing me in to the story waiting on the pages within.
It seems Chapel Hill/Carrboro, and the surrounding towns and boros are a similar draw for folks who spend their days (and likely nights) putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, bright and shining beacons for an unusually high concentration of writers and illustrators. Personalities as well known as John Grisham keep a home in Chapel Hill. Popular young adult author Sarah Dessen grew up and still resides in Chapel Hill. Daniel Wallace, recipient of a Harper Lee Award and most known for Big Fish, later adapted into a film by Tim Burton, attended and now teaches at UNC-Chapel Hill. This is just scratching the surface of but one of our area towns. Expand the search a bit further, and the number of our neighbors who make their living as writers may surprise you.
One of my all time favorite books, Cold Mountain, was awarded the National Book Award for Fiction and later adapted into a tear jerker of a film. It chronicled the journey of wounded confederate soldier, Inman, trying to make his way home to Ada, the woman he loves. I’ve devoured the book twice and enjoyed the movie more times than I can count. It’s a beautiful story of love and loss, not just between Ada and Inman, but of many more who are close to them. The novel topped the NY Times best seller list for 61 weeks, and was Charles Frazier’s debut work. He graduated from UNC-CH and currently lives on a farm outside Raleigh.
Renee Ahdieh is most known for the popular young adult fantasy series, The Wrath and the Dawn, a love story based on a famous collection of Middle Eastern and Asian folktales which centers on Khalid, who takes a new bride each day, executing her by sunrise. Imagine Entertainment has picked up the film rights, and fans are anxiously awaiting any updates. Ms. Ahdieh, a UNC-CH alum and self proclaimed Tarheels fan, landed slightly further afield and resides in Charlotte.
Just recently, during a hilarious and sometimes awkward evening at Duke Energy Center in Raleigh with David Sedaris, I was reminded he spent his childhood here in the Triangle. He shared with the audience that his father and some of his siblings still reside here, enjoying occasional lunches with David at the Belted Goat in Fearrington. Sedaris is a humorist, a comedian, a satirist, and not without controversy. He’s best known for what he calls autobiographical stories and social commentary, and has won numerous awards. He can make most folks laugh out loud, even if a bit uncomfortably.
A local author connection can even be found right here in our Boro Realty office. Our newest agent, Kelly Feole Powers’ husband, Kevin Powers, is the author of National Book Award finalist, The Yellow Birds, and more recently released, A Shout in the Ruins. An Iraq war veteran, Kevin’s debut novel draws from his experience and centers on two young soldiers trying to stay alive during the war. It received high praise from critics and authors alike, and several awards, including the PEN/Hemingway. His second work is set in Virginia beginning in the Civil War, and spans 100 years, exploring violence and exploitation in America. Oprah calls it, “an enthralling tale”, and the NY Times, “gorgeous, devastating”. Kelly and Kevin live in Chatham County, although the work of promoting a book is extensive, and these days, Kevin finds himself traveling the world.
Our area’s creativity is not limited to the adult genre. Chatham’s Camile Andros’ Charlotte the Scientist picture books have a STEM focus, featuring Charlotte, a scientist bunny, introducing kids to the scientific method through funny and charming stories. And Carrboro is home to NAACP History Maker recipient Keith Knight, a cartoonist, and the illustrator for the tween series Jake the Fake. This series follows the adventures of Jake, a sixth grader who faked his way into the Music and Art Academy, where the high jinks then begin. Considered a fast and funny alternative to the Wimpy Kid books, Jake receives high praise from well known comedic author Dave Barry.
The connection to authors in our area towns and neighborhoods doesn’t end with just the authors themselves. Local Carrboro photographer Amy Stern has worked with several area writers creating stunning photos for book covers, websites and other publicity purposes. Last year, Amy and I enjoyed a book signing event at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill after Amy photographed, Liese O’Halloran Schwarz for her book, The Possible World. Other local authors Amy has enjoyed working with include: local mystery writer Ellery Adams; Peter Guzzardi of Chapel Hill, author of Emeralds of Oz; and Carla Buckley, a psychological suspense writer, also from Chapel Hill. Amy enjoys these opportunities working with local authors, combining her love of books with her own art form: photography.
There are far too many authors and illustrators and burgeoning writers in our community to mention them all in one blog post. One Google search for NC authors/writers/illustrators will bring up enough information for a lengthy research paper. I hope this inspires you to do your own digging- to venture into the North Carolina or local author sections of your favorite independent book store and to learn a bit more about the vast number of incredibly creative folks we have right in our own backyards.
Jen Johnston is an avid reader and a long-time (although recently truant) book club member. Her favorite book is: The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics, by Daniel James Brown.