UNCG Magazine

Terry Kennedy on NC’s literary inspiration

Photo of Terry Kennedy smiling

Terry Kennedy ’99 MFA has written the poetry collection “New River Breakdown.” He directs the MFA Writing Program here at UNCG. He serves as editor of The Greensboro Review, as well as of StorySouth. His work has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies.

When Carolina Public Press selected panelists for their series “Literary North Carolina: Drawing Inspiration from the Tar Heel State,” he was an obvious choice.

Carolina Public Press is currently presenting “Ten for NC,” virtual conversations about ten issues, topics, and debates in this state.

Terry Kennedy will be a panelist on a one-hour virtual conversation regarding this state in regard to “literary muse and memory.”

“My hope is that viewers will gain a little bit of inspiration from this event,’ Kennedy said in an email interview this week. “Maybe you’re an aspiring North Carolina writer. Hearing from other North Carolina writers just might inspire you to keep going, yourself. For general audiences, this event might inspire a sense of hope or gratitude for the range and depth of creative work coming out of the state – even at such a harrowing point in its history.”

This panel includes three other acclaimed writers:

  • Jaki Shelton Green is the first African American and third woman to be appointed as the North Carolina Poet Laureate. She is a 2019 Academy of American Poet Laureate Fellow, 2014 NC Literary Hall of Fame Inductee, 2009 NC Piedmont Laureate appointment, and 2003 recipient of the North Carolina Award for Literature. 
  • Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, an enrolled citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians whose debut novel, “Even As We Breathe,” a finalist for the Weatherford Award, was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2020.
  • Jacqueline DeGroot lives in Sunset Beach. Her fiction draws inspiration from our state’s Brunswick Islands and she also spends time keeping the memory of the iconic Kindred Spirit mailbox alive through her books and assisting to preserve the notebooks left within it.

We asked Kennedy why he thought North Carolina is such a fertile resource for authors?

“My hope is that everyone on the panel will have a different answer for this. For me, it starts with family and ends with education. As is the case with many families in Southern states, my family was filled with story tellers. Sometimes (and usually with the men) the stories were their own particular (and often regional) take on the Jack Tales; stories that had been modified and changed over the years to stay relevant with the times and the people living in them. Other times the stories (usually told by the women) were about members of the family that had passed. 

“So there’s that. Storytelling as a family tradition. 

“But also education. Historically, the people of NC valued education. And that value system translated into public spending on education as well. …”

“Budget priorities started to shift away from education in the 80s but the foundation was there to give North Carolina a highly educated population that, in some cases, inspired the listeners of those family stories to write books that gave them (the stories) a public audience. I think of the ‘family’ based works of Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell, Doris Betts, etc. And many of the writers of that generation went on to teach in our public schools, passing that writerly tradition forward. And passing the stories of North Carolinians forward.”

The event will be held Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. 

It is free, but you must register.

You may register here.

Story compiled by Mike Harris.
Photography by Cynthia Nearman.

See Terry Kennedy recite “The Epigrammatist” from ‘C’ by UNCG Professor Emeritus and former NC Poet Laureate Fred Chappell.

See celebrated writer and MFA program co-founder Robert Watson’s letter of support for landmark status of Jackson Library – and an archival photo with Terry Kennedy.

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