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Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues

GROWING UP IN THE BLUE RIDGE: THE LIVES OF TWO NORTH CAROLINA MOUNTAIN WRITERS a review by Gene Hyde Wilma Dykeman. Family of Earth: A Southern Mountain Childhood. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016. Gregory S. Taylor. James Larkin Pearson: A Biography of North Carolina’s Longest-Serving Poet Laureate. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015.

GENE HYDE is Head of Special Collections at UNC Asheville. He holds an MA in Appalachian Studies from Appalachian State University and has worked in Appalachian Special Collections for nearly a decade. GREGORY S. TAYLOR earned a BA in History from Clemson University, an MA from the University of Alabama, and a PhD from the University of Mississippi. He is the co-author of The North Carolina State Prison for the Images of America series (Arcadia Publishing, 2016).

Those of us in the mountainous, western reaches of North Carolina have plenty of reasons to embrace North Carolina’s “Writingest State” moniker. Indeed, the state’s Appalachian Mountains have produced some of the state’s finest novelists and poets, including native Appalachian authors Thomas Wolfe, Robert Morgan, Wilma Dykeman, John Ehle, and former North Carolina Poet Laureates Fred Chappell and James Larkin Pearson. The North Carolina mountains are also home to many authors who have adopted the region as home, a list that includes Ron Rash and Gail Godwin as well as several former North Carolina Poet Laureates: Joseph Bathanti, Catherine Smith Bowers, and Kathryn Stripling Byer. Two recent volumes describe the lives of North Carolina mountain writers, providing insight into how their Blue Ridge childhoods helped shape their writing careers. Gregory Taylor’s James Larkin Pearson: A Biography of North Carolina’s Longest-Serving Poet Laureate relates the relatively unknown saga of the largely selftaught Wilkes County native who served from 1953 to 1981 as the state’s second poet laureate. Wilma Dykeman’s Family of Earth: A Southern Mountain Childhood is a recently discovered memoir of Dykeman’s childhood in Beaverdam near Asheville. Born in 1879 near Moravian Falls in Wilkes County, James Larkin Pearson came to verse naturally, reciting his first poem at age four during a winter ox wagon trip with his parents. While his precocious rhyming initially amused his parents, they soon considered it problematic and tried to stop his poetical sensibilities by, as Pearson later related, shaming and

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beating his penchant for rhyme out of him. Their efforts failed, and Pearson later related that he always had pencil and notebook with him as he plowed, always “working out a poem” in the midst of his farm work (10). Pearson grew up in the heavily agrarian world of Wilkes County in the late nineteenth century. Despite other pursuits, literary and otherwise, his farming roots were something that were a constant source of inspiration and, often, fiscal solvency. As a youth, he became a talented carpenter and sometimes relied on this skill to pay the bills. Above all else, though, Pearson’s passions were poetry, printing, and publishing, and it was the latter two that provided his preferred way of making ends meet. Pearson became enamored with publishing as a youth, taking his first job as a writer/journalist with the Ashe County newspaper, Plain Truth, in 1901. He worked for several small newspapers and went on to found several himself, the most important being The Fool Killer, where he served as publisher, editor, and primary journalistic voice during the 1920s, even printing the paper on a press he owned. Throughout his life he promulgated his views through his various newspapers, revealing himself as somewhat of a Socialist with anti-Catholic tendencies. He argued vehemently for temperance and against tobacco use, and held highly individualistic views about religion. He was antiwar and even went after the Ku Klux Klan in 1915, attacking their racial prejudice as well as their “heathenism, barbarism, national prejudice, and devil worship” (66). His columns, with their mixture of wit, outrage, sarcasm, and empathy, found a limited

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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