Wilmington’s literary community keeps gaining accolades (two National Book Awards nominees in 2015) and attention in the press. With multiple established publishers in the state (Algonquin, John F. Blair) and new smaller presses gaining traction (Eno, Bull City), it is timely to shine a light on discussions around literature, publishing and the importance of communicating a truthful story in our present world.
Welcome to Carpe Librum, encore’s biweekly book column, wherein I will dissect a current title or an old book—because literature does not exist in a vacuum but emerges to participate in a larger, cultural conversation over years. I will feature many NC writers; however, the hope is to place the discussion in a larger context and therefore examine works around the world.
Literary Trails of North Carolina
By Georgann Eubanks
UNC Press, 2007-13, trilogy
“Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains” (2007), “Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont” (2010), and “Literary Trials of Eastern North Carolina” (2013) comprise a remarkable journey through the literary landscape of our state. Georgann Eubanks utilizes the traditional form of the guidebook to take readers on journeys through geography and time. Each book is divided into individual “tours” that relate.
For example, in “Literary Trials of Eastern North Carolina,” area is Tour 7: Carolina Beach, Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach. Tour 6 makes up Calabash, Sunset Beach, Shallotte, Holden Beach, Oak Island, Southport, Bald Head Island, and Fort Fisher. All together, across three books of material, Eubanks guides us around the state with individual tours.
Perhaps what makes the series fascinating, is the melding of form. On the surface she uses a traditional guidebook format, but, throughout all three volumes, Eubanks employs a conversational prose, more focused on storytelling than on dry recitation of information. Even if readers don’t visit the modest house in Rocky Mount that Jack Kerouac immortalized in “The Dharma Bums,” it seems known intimately. Eubanks follows a formula of quoting the text that mentions a place (where applicable), giving greater context, as well as directions. The aforementioned house in Rocky Mount belonged to Kerouac’s sister, and he wrote about sleeping on the back porch when he visited.
The depth and breadth of material included makes the series a course in North Carolina’s cultural history. Eubanks includes the big hits: O. Henry, Sandburg, Wolfe, Sparks, etc., but she doesn’t stop there. She mines the state’s connection to the literary world to the present with a host of stars. She also connects us to Margaret Mitchell, Carson McCullers, P. T. Barnum, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and Earnest Hemmingway, to drop just a few big names. Though she uses names to get readers’ attention, she really preaches the good word about the state’s writers associated with various educational institutions and community organizations. If anyone takes one thing away from the books, let it be, for all the big names we could attract, the writers who live here and continue to exalt our fair state with the written word and work with future generations to cultivate the literary arts are the real treasures.
Eubanks does not dwell in the past by steeping each page in nostalgia. For her, writers working 100 years ago are just as vibrant and alive through their writings as those producing today. She sends an incredibly strong message that the literary world of North Carolina is not a piece of amber to be viewed as a relic. Eubanks really wants readers to know the word is vibrant and alive in North Carolina—but it is standing on the shoulders of over 200 years of work. She treats the living and dead with equal reverence and admiration. Perhaps it is a lesson many of us could aspire to give the work of our contemporaries the same consideration and interest we give our patron saints.
Clearly, Eubanks has spent a tremendous amount of time driving in NC. It would be easy to do a guidebook about the Triangle, Asheville and Charlotte, with a couple of nods to the outdoor dramas at each end of the state. Yes, Raleigh and Chapel Hill get a lot of page space, but it looks like she manages to include every county with an assortment of locales to visit, including landmarks, bookstores, libraries, public parks, museums, special collections, and artwork. Eubanks really gives equal admiration to poets writing about small mountain counties as she does to literary stars of Chapel Hill.
We can read her books as an armchair traveler and learn about our state’s history, and cultural growth, while discovering new writers. Or we can get in our cars and go— because she really will inspire readers to seek out the locales she found. The ones nearby will change the way we see our hometowns, while the furthest reaches of North Carolina call them back to be seen in a new light.
It can be hard to find a gift for book worms who read fast. But one of Eubanks’ books might be the solution to said gift-giving conundrum (especially when including a promise to seek out locales together in the coming year). Sharing our history with those we love and making memories around art that has spoken to generations is a special gift. Eubanks offers us the key to get started.