North Carolina

Tar Heel: Margaret Bauer has stories to tell, NC writers to share

Margaret Bauer, ECU English professor and editor of the North Carolina Literary Review.
Margaret Bauer, ECU English professor and editor of the North Carolina Literary Review. Donna Kain

From the misty Blue Ridge backdrop of Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain” to the sandy expanses where Paul Green’s “The Lost Colony” is continually revived in theatrical form, North Carolina has engendered many a cherished story – and has produced more than its fair share of authors.

Margaret Bauer’s job is to share those stories and to nurture and promote the writers who create them, from those who have earned national renown to those that are still finding their audience, and everyone in between.

Bauer, an English professor at East Carolina University, has been editor of the North Carolina Literary Review for nearly 20 years, serving as a mentor to young writers and scholars, a cheerleader for the state’s literary tradition, a champion of unknown or forgotten authors.

The publication, which has won acclaim for its innovative approach to showcasing the state’s literature, is celebrating its 25th year. An anniversary edition came out earlier this month and several events are planned for later in the year.

Bauer, a Louisiana native, says it’s a 365-day-a-year job, but one that allows her to make a living doing what she loves best: reading authors from her adopted state.

“It’s preserving the literary culture and if you ask me, we probably have the richest literary culture in the United States,” Bauer says.

Ed Southern, director of the N.C. Writer’s Network, says Bauer is a solid editor, an effective leader, and “as fierce and passionate of an advocate as North Carolina writers could ask for.” One of her key roles, he says, has been to highlight new and overlooked writers.

“We have so many very accomplished writers in this state, it would be easy for her to keep soliciting work from the big names,” says Southern. “But she works hard to make sure that the vast array of North Carolina writing gets its due.”

Always with a book

Growing up in a small town in southern Louisiana, Bauer gravitated toward books at an early age – often using them to entertain herself when her parents visited with friends. Some of her favorites were the “Little House on the Prairie” books, though she admits she also read “a lot of trash.”

“My parents used to comment that I never went anywhere without a book in my hand,” she says.

In high school, she was editor of the school newspaper and yearbook, and she majored in English once she got to Louisiana State University.

She thought she might follow in the footsteps of a grandmother, her namesake, who had gone to law school back in the 1920s. Being a teacher was another option, though being a college professor hardly occurred to her until one of her own professors urged her to apply to graduate school.

After she earned a master’s degree at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, a mentor there counseled her to go for her Ph.D. out of state. She earned her doctorate, focused on Southern literature, from the University of Tennessee.

Her dissertation on novelist and short story writer Ellen Gilchrist became her first book, published in 1999. She’s written three other books and numerous articles on Southern writers.

She taught briefly elsewhere before coming to ECU in 1996, taking over as editor of the review from founding editor, Alex Albright. Southern, of the N.C. Writer’s Network, says it could have been difficult to fill the shoes of Albright, who quickly turned the new publication into a respected institution.

“To take over from him could have been intimidating or overwhelming, but for Margaret it was neither,” he says.

Working with young scholars

From its inception, the North Carolina Literary Review differed from other similar publications. A crossover between literary magazine and scholarly journal, its targets a broad audience with scholarly articles, short stories, poetry, nonfiction, book reviews and author interviews.

Early on, the art department at ECU offered to chip in with artwork, photography and page design, an offer that’s made the review visually distinctive and helped win it awards for design over the years.

Unlike other literary reviews, the publication only accepts work by or about authors who have lived or studied in North Carolina. And there is no shortage of material in a state that boasts a surprisingly large literary community.

Bauer says North Carolina offers a lot to aspiring authors – a striking and varied physical landscape, a rich history and, perhaps most importantly, a literary community that is more supportive than competitive.

“One common thread I see among authors is their generosity with each other’s work,” she says. “They always celebrate one another.”

The review publishes work submitted for several competitions – one for poetry, one for short fiction and a new category for creative nonfiction. The first nonfiction winners were published in last week’s edition, while the winning authors for poetry who will appear in next year’s edition were named last week.

Submissions are screened by outside judges anonymously, with final placements decided by a local judge. Bauer says one of her favorite moments is receiving the list of contest winners.

“I love to match titles with names and see who won,” she says.

A professor of the English department at ECU, Bauer teaches courses, mostly in Southern or women’s literature, and guides interns who help produce the review.

Interns help with editing and formatting, managing subscriptions, research and fact-checking.

Bauer also works closely with some young scholars, encouraging doctoral students from other universities to write book reviews and helping them to convert their papers into articles.

“Part of the fun is helping new writers,” she says. “If I like what someone is doing and the scholar is willing to work with me, I’ll work with them.”

The review also invited submissions of scholarly work on underappreciated local writers. This year’s edition includes an essay on Mary Hancock, who wrote historical novels in the 1970s.

Among the underappreciated authors that the review has sought to bring to light is Paul Green, a North Carolina playwright whose work was largely ignored in literary circles. Bauer wrote a biography of Green, whose work she compared to that of Tennessee Williams, and the review promoted scholarship on his work.

Most issues of the review focus on a particular theme or region of the state. Bauer doesn’t pick favorites among the state’s writers, calling herself an overall “writer groupie” who wants to see all of them more widely read.

Her only fear is signs that the overall pool of readers is growing smaller.

“I worry because I see the decline in reading,” she says. “So far North Carolina writers still have their fan base. I hope we can keep that up.”

Margaret Bauer

Born: February 1963, Franklin, La.

Residence: Greenville

Career: English professor, East Carolina University; editor, North Carolina Literary Review

Awards: Centennial Award for Excellence in Leadership, ECU, 2012; Parnassus Award for Significant Editorial Achievement, Council of Editors of Learned Journals, 2007; Women of Distinction, ECU, 2007; Scholar-Teacher Award, ECU, 2004

Education: B.A. English, Louisiana State University; M.A. English, University of Louisiana at Lafayette; Ph.D. English, University of Tennessee

Fun fact: Bauer’s most recent book focuses on literary characters that share characteristics with Scarlett O’Hara. She says the heroine of “Gone with the Wind” got a bad reputation in part because people forget she was only 16 when the story begins. “She was a child and a spoiled brat and she stepped up really fast when she had to,” Bauer says.

Want to know more? Learn more about the North Carolina Literary Review and upcoming 25th anniversary events at www.nclr.ecu.edu/about-nclr.

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