Gov. McCrory says poet laureate position shouldn't be limited to cultural elites

jmurawski@newsobserver.comJuly 16, 2014 

Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday he'd had minimal involvement with the selection of a self-published state government employee as North Carolina's eighth poet laureate last week.

But he also defended his pick of Fuquay-Varina resident Valerie Macon for the ambassadorial role, saying her outsider status and lack of cachet could bring a fresh perspective in promoting poetry across the state.

"One of my objectives is to open up the availability of all appointments to people that typically aren't inside the organized groups," McCrory said. "We've got to open up opportunities for people that aren't always a part of the standard or even elite groups that have been in place for a long time. And it's good to welcome new voices and new ideas."

McCrory made his comments during a press briefing following a jobs announcement at the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.

The selection of Macon as poet laureate has infuriated the state's literary community because of Macon's thin cultural resume and also because the governor bypassed the normal process of seeking advice from the N.C. Arts Council.

While many writers have denounced the governor's choice they have also praised Macon's activism with homeless people and have promised they would support her in her new role.

The two-year position pays a stipend between $5,000 and $15,000, and entails holding workshops and readings. Unlike her recent predecessors, who are widely published and have won writing awards, Macon has self-published only two poetry collections. She works for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and is currently a disability determination specialist.

McCrory said he has been focusing on jobs and education and has followed the controversy over Macon's appointment by "reading about it mostly in the newspaper."

He said his staff came up with several recommendations and he picked Macon from the list.

He also said he was unaware of the N.C. Arts Council protocol followed by previous governors in selecting a poet laureate.

"We were not aware of the traditional process that was in place, it wasn't written down anywhere on the walls," McCrory said, surprising reporters who told him it was online last week.

"Well, we must have missed that web site, sorry," he said. "Listen, I'm reviewing the entire process."

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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