Under the Dome

McCrory received talking points on poet laureate controversy

Back on July 15, North Carolina’s poet laureate controversy was at full boil. The previous week, Gov. Pat McCrory had filled the prestigious position with the appointment of Valerie Macon – a state employee whose only public writings were two self-published books – and the state’s poetry community had exploded in protest over her thin resume and the fact that McCrory did not consult the state arts council.

McCrory held a press conference on July 15, at a jobs announcement at the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. Knowing that the governor would be asked about the poet laureate controversy, his staff prepared him a list of “Poet Laureate Talking Points,” which have been unearthed as part of a public-records request by The News & Observer.

The two-page document opens with a “Background” section, five items outlining the situation (“You appointed Valerie Macon as the poet laureate of North Carolina last week; Macon will serve a two-year term ...”) and giving details about Macon herself. It also includes McCrory’s quote from the press release announcing her selection (”North Carolina, with a centuries-old history of cultivating artistic and literary talent, eagerly anticipates Macon’s service. I look forward to the unique perspective and style she will bring to the office.”)

The second section on the “Appointment Process” is considerably more interesting, with three bullet points:

• Past appointments have gone through a selection committee, but this is not a required part of the process.

• Ms. Macon has been recommended for this position by numerous people in North Carolina.

• This is an appointment made by the governor and the governor has the final decision.

Following that is a section titled, “If Pressed on Anything About the Selection Process.” It advises McCrory to say that his administration makes “hundreds of appointments”; reiterate his pride in Macon’s selection; and conclude that he’s “more concerned about the budget and getting raises for teachers.”

Finally, in the concluding section, “If Pressed About a Biographical/Award Error,” McCrory was coached to say, “This was a mistake made at the staff level.”

At that day’s press conference, McCrory went off-script from his bullet points by speaking of his belief in the need “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” (a quote that riled the state’s poetry community even further). He also said his staff came up with several laureate recommendations, Macon was on the list and he picked her.

When asked on Friday who recommended Macon and to whom, McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis answered in an email: “The recommendations came from … staff in our office that handle boards and commission issues (Including recommendations for appointments).” He also added, “As you know, we have revised the selection process as we look for the next poet laureate.”

Macon resigned as poet laureate on July 16, the day after McCrory’s press conference. In September, the state arts council announced it was accepting nominations for poet laureate. Deadline for nominations recently closed, with induction set to happen early next year.

Stay tuned ...