Shelby Stephenson is a teacher, storyteller, singer and a native of Johnston County. He’s also one heckuva poet, whose writings reflect his own days on a farm and his life experiences. His stories and poetry are filled with colorful images of rural North Carolina and the phrases and rhythms of Tar Heel speech.
What better choice to serve as North Carolina’s next poet laureate? There isn’t one.
Stephenson, retired as a teacher at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and with multiple books and record albums to his credit, will do a great job in a two-year hitch as laureate.
The laureates are supposed to encourage exposure to literature and poetry through programs around the state they design and conduct. As Stephenson is a professional teacher, he should be great at that, and he is known to have an outgoing charm and a down-to-earth personality that have connected well with his students and will do the same with his fellow North Carolinians.
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And the fellow has credentials, including membership in the state’s Literary Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Award for literature.
Gov. Pat McCrory made the choice, and he’s due credit for it after an earlier gaffe when he appointed a state employee who had self-published a couple of books but had thin credentials. To her credit, she resigned when a storm came rolling in over her appointment. This time, McCrory went to a panel of folks experienced in the arts and his secretary of cultural resources, Susan Kluttz.
Clearly, the governor got some bad advice the first time out, but this time, he has made a superb choice. Stephenson will be formally installed early next year.
Residents who go see their new laureate will learn about the people and the mountains and the sea and the critters of their state as they may not have seen, or heard of them, before. Shelby Stephenson will be a distinguished poet laureate. He’ll also be a lot of fun.