Thanks to Carolina Wren Press, veteran N.C. publisher John F. Blair finds an owner, adopts a new name and offers up several new releases
Compiled by Brian Lampkin
Some big-name writers from big-name publishers have books arriving in March: Oprah Winfrey (Flatiron Books) Dave Eggers (Knopf), Peter Wohlleben (Greystone), Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead), Preet Bharara (Knopf) and Amy Hempel (Scribner), to name a few. Advertising budgets for all of those books will be significant (To be sure, no Super Bowl ads, but maybe a 1/2-page ad in Mother Jones!). Instead, let’s use our own meagre “advertising budget” to highlight a North Carolina publisher that’s bringing superb books to us in 2019.
Blair is a publishing house located in Durham, North Carolina, recently created by the purchase of Winston-Salem’s John F. Blair Publisher by Carolina Wren Press. Publisher Lynn York says that for several years, he had been trying to find a way to expand Carolina Wren Press, founded in 1976. “When we heard that the folks at John F. Blair were ready to retire, it seemed like a natural fit,” he says. “We were really happy to be able to purchase their titles and pull them into our nonprofit.”
Along with senior editor Robin Miura, York has embarked on an ambitious path. They recently announced that poet Ada Limón is their new poetry editor. Limón has credibility of the highest order in the poetry world. With all these changes, York still believes that their “mission remains the same: to publish new and underrepresented writers. With the addition of the John F. Blair titles, this also means that we publish lots of books that relate to the South, and especially to North Carolina.”
Here are forthcoming titles from Blair:
April 2: The Little Turkle, by Deborah Van Dyken ($16.95). The Little Turkle hatches into a world full of wonder on a barrier island off the Atlantic Coast where some people still call turtles “turkles.” Van Dyken lives in Beaufort, N.C., where she practices family law and watches sea turtles and their nests at the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
April 23: Any Other Place: Stories, by Michael Croley ($16.95) In his debut collection, Michael Croley takes us from the Appalachian region of rural Kentucky and Ohio to a village in South Korea in 13 engaging stories in which characters find themselves, wherever they are, in states of displacement. Croley uses his absorbing prose and relentless intent to uncover his characters’ hidden disquiet and to bring us a remarkable and unique collection that expands the scope of modern American literature. Croley will also be featured at the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival, May 16–19, 2019.
May 7: Cape Fear Rising, by Philip Gerard ($18.95). Based on actual events, Cape Fear Rising tells a story of one city’s racial nightmare — a scenario that was repeated throughout the South at the turn of the century. Although told as fiction, the core of this novel strikes at the heart of racial strife in America.
May 7: North Carolina Ghost Lights and Legends, by Charles F. Gritzner ($15.95). North Carolina is considered one of the U.S. headquarters for ghost lights — that is, for spooky and unexplained luminous phenomena. Nearly half of all reported ghost lights shine, blink, burn, dance or float somewhere in the state. These ghost lights are well-known in their localities. There are scary and fascinating stories associated with them, and they attract many visitors, each hoping to see a ball of fire floating over a cemetery or a jack-o’-lantern illuminating a corner of the Great Dismal Swamp or, better yet, a long-dead railroad man swinging his lantern in search of his severed head.
Author Charles “Fritz” Gritzner has been chasing ghost lights for many years. A geography professor and luminous phenomenon buff, he has visited the sites, researched possible scientific explanations for the lights and recorded the legends surrounding them. In this charming and fascinating book, he does not seek to debunk these phenomena, but to illuminate them as a part of the folk culture of North Carolina.
August 13: Gullah Days: Hilton Head Islanders Before the Bridge, by Thomas C. Barnwell, Emily Shaw Campbell and Carolyn Grant ($21.95). The Gullah culture, though borne of isolation and slavery, thrived on the U.S. East Coast sea islands from pre–Civil War times until today, and nowhere more prominently than on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. On this small barrier island, descendants of the first generations of Gullah people continue to preserve Gullah language, customs, arts and cuisine. The three authors of Gullah Days: Hilton Head Islanders Before the Bridge are among those descendants, and in this book, they chronicle the amazing history of their secluded community from the Civil War through the 1950s, when real estate development connected Hilton Head Island to the mainland with a bridge.
Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.