N.C. Governor Causes Controversy With Poet Laureate Appointment

Jul 17, 2014
Originally published on July 18, 2014 12:38 pm
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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a report this morning on a controversy in the rough-and-tumble bare-knuckle world of poetry. North Carolina has a new poet laureate, Governor Pat McCrory appointed a state employee whose work is self-published. The governor acted without input from the state Arts Council which has some in the literary community upset. Here's Duncan McFadyen of member station WFAE in Charlotte.

DUNCAN MCFADYEN, BYLINE: When the governor McCrory announced last week that Valerie Macon would be North Carolina's next poet laureate, many writers around the state hadn't even heard of her. You see while it's ultimately the Governor's pick, traditionally the poet laureate is recommended by a committee from the state arts commission. North Carolina's outgoing poet laureate, Joseph Bathanti, says that process was designed to pick an exceptional writer.

JOSEPH BATHANTI: Somebody not only with a literary reputation in North Carolina but beyond. And that process just wasn't observed this last round.

MCFADYEN: McCrory says he didn't know about the process and he selected Macon from poets his staff recommended. That doesn't sit well with Davidson College English professor Alan Michael Parker. He says the governor is telling professional writers that he doesn't value what they do.

ALAN MICHAEL PARKER: It seems to me it's demeaning. It's a huge mistake.

MCFADYEN: This is not the first time McCrory has ruffled feathers. The Republican governor ran as a moderate state government outsider willing to work with both parties to get things done. But civil rights groups began to protest last year after he and the majority Republican legislature cut social programs and made voting laws more restrictive. North Carolina's four previous poets laureate were all registered Democrats appointed by Democratic governors. Macon like McCrory is a registered Republican. McCrory defends his pick saying, Valerie Macon's outsider status could bring fresh perspective to the job of promoting North Carolina literature. For NPR News, I'm Duncan McFadyen in Charlotte North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.