Smithfield Herald

Benson man becomes new NC poet laureate

A published poet with a string of North Carolina literary awards and strong nominations for the honor is North Carolina’s new poet laureate.

Shelby Stephenson of Benson will be installed at a ceremony in February. Gov. Pat McCrory announced the appointment on Monday.

Stephenson was chosen after a panel of literary experts, and state Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz, reviewed nominations. Kluttz cited his strong resume as a factor.

The appointment was intentionally in contrast to the governor’s controversial and brief appointment of Valerie Macon, a state employee who had self-published two books, in July. Where Macon, who resigned after a week, had not been a part of the state’s rich literary history, Stephenson has been firmly entrenched in it, receiving the North Carolina Award for literature, Order of the Long Leaf Pine and other awards, including induction into the N.C. Literary Hall of Fame.

He was an English professor at UNC Pembroke and editor of Pembroke Magazine until his retirement in 2010. He has been published by independent press publishers and he has self-published a volume of poetry. He and his wife have sung on four CDs.

“I think the choice is brilliant, and I am rejoicing in the news,” former state poet laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer said. “Shelby is a longtime friend, a powerful voice in North Carolina literature. A singer, an old-time raconteur, a poet attuned to the rhythms of our state and its people. I offer my joyful congratulations to one of our state's literary treasures. This is a splendid Christmas gift to North Carolinians, all of us. And for those who keep saying they don't like poetry, just wait till you hear Shelby. You will change your mind in a flash.”

McCrory, in a statement his office issued, acknowledged the controversy around Macon.

“We recognize that we didn’t follow the traditional process during the last selection,” he said. “However, this time my appointment comes from the strong recommendation of Secretary Kluttz and the distinguished members of the selection panel.”

Stephenson plans three projects during his year as laureate: writing workshops in assisted living and retirement homes, raising awareness of using archives, and promoting writing about farming. He grew up on a small farm near Benson.

His wife, Nin, was recently placed in an assisted living arrangement, where Stephenson said she has “met people with wonderful stories,” according to the governor’s office.

Staff writer David Menconi contributed.