North Carolina Literary Review is a joint production of East Carolina University and the North Carolina Literary & Historical Society and is quite an elaborate creation. The journal has yearly themes and this year’s theme concerns the Appalachian region of the state. There are numerous book reviews, along with poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, interviews, literary criticism, plus many illustrating photographs and paintings – 240 pages altogether.
Congratulations to David McGuirt who won the 2009 Doris Betts Fiction Prize for his merciless story, “Blind Faith.” The judge, Kat Meads, says it “indicts with the means by which all good fiction indicts: plot, pacing, powerful imagery, and characters who stay with the reader long after the reading is finished.” For my money, this description applies even more so to “Hook and Eye” by Kathryn Stripling Byer, a ruthless story about a woman’s revenge on her unfaithful husband. This one resonated with me for days.
Having grown up in the state of North Carolina, I particularly enjoyed the backwoods imagery some of the poets offered. This snippet by Byer:
Swarmed by the dust he stirred,
he clenched his fists round the tractor wheel,
Sixty years he ground
his teeth on the grit of his field.
Rain, because prayed for, was always called God’s
answer, God being what gave
or withheld whatever we needed.
Or this one by Laurence Avery from “As If She Listened”:
Her husband (starched collar, dark suit, long string tie
like the boys)
scowls at the camera
as if suddenly doubtful a family portrait is worth
a missed hour of plowing.
There is a very interesting interview by Matthew Martin with the author Wells Tower who has had considerable success writing both fiction and nonfiction. He discusses in some detail the process of finding and developing a “thread” in nonfiction, and goes on to say that, for him, fiction is more difficult to write and has higher highs and lower lows. There is also an engaging interview by Art Taylor with the Wilmington, North Carolina writer Wanda Canada about writing and the ongoing changes in the publishing world.
The layout of this literary magazine is unique, although sometimes I found it a bit cluttered and hard to negotiate. I also would like to see fewer book reviews and more fiction and poetry. Nonetheless, there is much here for everyone to be proud of – there is no doubt it requires a tremendous amount of work to put it together – and the production certainly represents the state and the university well.