By Eleanor H. Oakley
President and CEO
Wielding a giant pencil and counting on a costume drawing a crowd, 2015 Piedmont Laureate James Maxey manned a table in the Artist Alley at NCComicon in Durham, November 13-15. Reasoning that costumes are a big part of any comic book convention, James went as the “Piedmont Laureate.” What is better than a caped superhero whose super strength is writing?
When four arts councils and commissions established the Piedmont Laureate program in 2009, their aim was ”to promote awareness and heighten appreciation for excellence in the literary arts throughout the Piedmont region” and a dedication to building a literary bridge for residents to come together and “celebrate the art of writing, enriching the lives of all our citizens.”
Seven years and Piedmont Laureates later, United Arts—together with the City of Raleigh Arts Commission, Durham Arts Council and the Orange County Arts Commission—have celebrated the art of writing many times over. They have sponsored the regional laureate in 150 appearances at libraries, literary festivals, writers clubs, and salons; “word tasting events” at local restaurants; Arts and Humanities Month observances before city councils and county commissions; writing workshops; art gallery openings; elementary, middle and high schools; retirement communities; arts centers; and community celebrations. The Laureate also has a blog post each month at www.piedmontlaureate.org, a space to discuss Laureate-related events and workshops, publishing in the genre, and all things literary.
The Piedmont Laureate program allows the sponsoring agencies to shine a much needed light on the wealth of literary talent and interest in our region. Each year, the sponsoring agencies select a particular literary genre, and an application process ensues. The focus for Maxey in 2015 has been science fiction/fantasy. The previous Piedmont Laureates have been Jaki Shelton Green in 2009 (poetry); Zelda Lockhart, 2010 (novelist); Scott Huler, 2011 (creative non-fiction); Ian Finley, 2011 (playwriting/screenwriting); John Claude Bemis, 2013 (children’s literature); and Carrie Knowles, 2014 (short fiction).
With each year and new literary genre, the sponsoring agencies gather with the new Laureate to brainstorm potential public appearances. Just a few of Maxey’s Wake County appearances have included discussions of “The Superhero Inside All of Us,” at local libraries; a two-part workshop entitled “Hunting Dinosaurs (and Diamonds, and Dunes): Learning How to Use Nature As Your Muse” at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences; and a two-part workshop entitled “Elements of a Good Ghost Story” at Mordecai House in Raleigh, which was followed by a night-time tour of this 18th-century registered historic landmark, with participants assigned to write a ghost story for sharing the following week. (Yes, just before Halloween.)
One of the last appearances for the 2015 Piedmont Laureate will be on December 2, 7 pm, at the Durham Arts Council. Maxey will be joined by former Piedmont Laureates Green, Huler, Finley, Bemis and Knowles to kick off the holidays with a literary spin. This group of writers will answer the question: “If you had access to an enchanted printing press and a magical, reindeer-drawn sled for a single night, what book would you leave in the stocking of every home?” A Q&A and reception conclude the event, which is free and open to the public.
In mid-November, the sponsoring agencies met to interview applicants for the position of 2016 Piedmont Laureate; for 2016, the literary genre will be mystery fiction. The individual selected will be presented at United Arts’ “State of Arts and Culture in Wake County” event on January 13, 2016 at the NC Museum of Art. Plan to join us at this New Year event to uncover our new Laureate. We expect 2016 to be as mysterious as 2015 was fantastical!