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Good reads: Fayetteville History, Heroes & Hometown Writers


By Diane Parfitt

Did you know that Carson McCullers and Charles W. Chesnutt – authors who achieved national literary success and critical acclaim – lived in downtown Fayetteville at one point? In this column, I’ll tell you a little about them and also about some up-and-coming authors, published in the last 10 years or so, who currently live in Fayetteville. These are talented writers who I have had the pleasure of meeting and reviewing their books.

  1. SHANE WILSON, who teaches writing at Fayetteville Technical Community College, graduated from Valdosta State University in Georgia with a Masters in English and has authored several novels, a collection of short stories and poetry. His first book, “A Year Since the Rain,” utilizes magical realism to tell the story of the confused but eminently likeable protagonist and narrator, computer programmer Alan. For him, a mysterious drought comes to represent the emptiness and dislocation he feels after the double whammy of his father’s death and the breakup with his first true love. He is an Everyman and a pilgrim, whose journey of self-discovery is aided by a succession of mystics who all happen to be women. It is a journey that we wish would continue long after we have finished the last page.
    In his next book, “The Smoke in his Eyes,” Wilson again uses magical realism in the story of “TJ,” who has to navigate the challenges of college and first love while searching for his sense of self as a serious musician. Through TJ and the other characters, the author compels us to question the meaning of inspiration and creativity in artistic development.
  2. KELISHA B. GRAVES, an instructor at Fayetteville State University and a doctoral candidate, published “Nannie Helen Burroughs: A Documentary Portrait of an Early Civil Rights Pioneer, 1900–1959” in 2019. Graves edited and published this anthology of Burroughs’ works after much research into the life of this African American female activist, educator and intellectual. Born to formerly enslaved parents in 1879, Burroughs founded the National Training School for Women and Girls. She emphasized the opportunities for women of color to achieve their goals and secure a place in society through determination and hard work. With this anthology, Graves has brought attention to an important but forgotten voice from the past. Books like this can help all of us understand the contributions to American society by African Americans and, perhaps, spark the much-needed conversations that can bring us together in these troubled times.
  3. With titles like “Out of My Mind: Quotations that Delight, Dazzle, and Confound,” “My Thoughts Prefer Side Streets” and “Thinkerer,” what’s not to like about LESLIE MIKLOSY? Miklosy was born in Argentina to Hungarian parents and moved to America as a child, finally ending up in Fayetteville after a varied career as a publications assistant, an administrator in a psychotherapy institute and a substitute elementary school teacher. Drawing from these experiences, Miklosy’s delightful little books offer reflections on life that are both entertaining and instructive.
    “My Thoughts Prefer Side Streets” offers a collection of short essays and aphorisms for the reader to reflect upon, to help them reevaluate attitudes, or simply just share a laugh over some of life’s little ironies. “Thinkerer” follows with more musings on life while focusing on optimism, success, procrastination, and overcoming obstacles. His latest book, “Out of My Mind,” draws from his previous books and adds new material to take us on a journey of discovery. As with all of his books, the whimsical illustrations add delightful visual treats. These are the kinds of books you want to have lying around for a quick pick-me-up as they take you to a gentler, kinder place.
  4. CRYSTAL MCLEAN, a financial service representative at First Citizens Bank in Fayetteville, is one of several talented, young writers in Fayetteville who have written children’s books. She wrote “Harmoney and the Empty
    ~ Leslie Miklosy
    “Thinkerer: A thinker who tinkers
    with words and ideas”
    Piggy Bank: A Book about Money, Budgeting, Entrepreneurship, and Persistence” to help her own daughter learn the value of money management. This delightfully illustrated book teaches kids healthy money habits and the value of setting goals and working to attain them. She has also made presentations to schoolchildren, teaching the core money principles of sharing, spending and saving at a level children can understand and practice.
  5. Born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia, in 1917, CARSON MCCULLERS moved to New York in 1934 when she was 17, where she began studying creative writing. After her marriage to Reeves McCullers in 1937, they moved to Fayetteville and rented an apartment in the Cool Spring Tavern downtown. Here she completed “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” which is considered one of the “Top 100 Books” by numerous reviewers.
    The theme throughout McCullers’ novels is often a variation of the “lonely heart” – tales of loneliness and isolation. She portrays her characters in sharp detail and, although many are strange, eccentric, and often damaged in some way, she manages to make them sympathetic to the reader. Critics have ranked McCullers with other Southern writers like William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren and Flannery O’Connor. Several of her books were made into Hollywood movies. “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” (1968) starred Alan Arkin, who was nominated for an Oscar (he won Best Actor in a Supporting Role in the 2006 “Little Miss Sunshine”).
  6. Born to free parents in 1858, CHARLES W. CHESNUTT grew up during Reconstruction in Fayetteville, where he attended the Howard School, the forerunner of Fayetteville State University. Although he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1878, his experiences in Fayetteville provided material for his novels and short stories. Writing at the beginning of the Jim Crow era, his themes include racial identity, color and class prejudice, and the often violent suppression of the rights and personal freedoms of African Americans.
    In his first novel, “The House Behind the Cedars,” most of the action takes place in a sleepy Southern town called Patesville, a thinly-disguised Fayetteville. Siblings John Warwick and Rena Walden are of mixed heritage and light-skinned enough to pass as white. John accomplishes this successfully and convinces Rena to do the same but for her it has tragic consequences. His next novel, “The Marrow of Tradition” (1901) is a fictional account of the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 in North Carolina. It relives the horror of that event, in which a mob of 2,000 white supremacists overthrew the elected black government officials in Wilmington and destroyed black businesses and property and killed upward of 300 Black citizens.
    Fayetteville has figured prominently in the novels of two of America’s most famous authors. The lesson for our current, aspiring authors is that through hard work and perseverance, they too can become writers of some note.
    Diane Parfitt can be contacted at citycentergallerybooks@gmail.com.