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Currently a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, Michael McFee has published five collections of poetry in addition to editing This is Where We Live. Michael has received numerous awards including the Johnston Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the Hettleman prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty.
Sad Girl Sitting on a Running Board
The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat
This is Where We Live
For a dozen or so lean but happy years - from 1980 into the early 1990s - I was a regular book reviewer. I could try to fancy that title up, and call myself a book editor (which I was, for the Spectator in Raleigh) or book critic (which I guess I was, for WUNC-FM in Chapel Hill); but, in fact, I was just a reviewer, reading and writing about books on a pretty-much weekly basis, which seemed like a wonderful fate for a former English major. Early on though, I had the panicky realization that I couldn't keep up with all the new books I wanted to: I had to be selective, to focus my reviewing attention somehow. And that's when the literary gods smiled on me, because I was lucky enough to be living in a place - North Carolina in general, the writer-rich Triangle in particular - that was beginning to explode with first-rate literature, fiction and poetry that needed somebody local to pay some attention to it. As a native Tar Heel and young writer myself, I was delighted to do so.
Once I thought I had discovered my specialty as a reviewer, I had my second uneasy insight: this new wave of North Carolina writers was so prolific, there was no way I could keep up with all the books they were producing. It was like trying to jot notes during an avalanche or tsunami, or (in Tar Heel weather terms) a hurricane or tornado, a truly overwhelming outpouring of novels and short stories and poems and nonfiction. I've heard this period described as "North Carolina's literary renaissance," but that term seems too mildly Latinate for such a cloudburst, such a flash flood, such a landscape-altering surge of contemporary writing.
The fiction-writers led the way, of course. From Thomas Wolfe and O. Henry on, North Carolina's best-known authors have written novels and short stories, and that tradition continued in the 1980s, with well-established authors like Reynolds Price and Doris Betts and Fred Chappell as well as newcomers like Clyde Edgerton, Kaye Gibbons, and Jill McCorkle - the latter three all published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a significant force in the outburst. Many of those writers were anthologized in "The Rough Road Home: Stories by North Carolina Writers" (University of North Carolina Press, 1992), a volume which confirmed that something very substantial indeed was going on in our literary state. But valuable as that book was, the Tar Heel fiction scene was so vigorous that editor Robert Gingher couldn't possibly cover it all, even with 22 stories: due to space restraints and other factors, he had to exclude a number of fine authors. And North Carolina short story writers continued to flourish during the rest of the 1990s, so much so that - already - another anthology is called for.