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Writers’ Network director is a writer himself

Ed Southern is best known as executive director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network since 2008.
But he’s an author in his own right. At this spring’s Rowan Reading Rendezvous, he read from his book of stories, “Parlous Angels.” It’s the era of the cotton mill in the South, a time of poverty and violence as “Yankee agitators,” also known as union organizers, descend to fight for better wages. Most doubt their motives and many are considered Reds — communists or atheists.
It was a dramatic scene featuring an old woman and an angry man out to kill the union organizer, set in the late 1920s or early 1930s.
Southern used most of his time to talk about history in North Carolina and about good writers who have captured the flavor of the state. Because he reads so much history in his research for various projects, Southern had come across stories about the labor struggles in North Carolina. He’s talked to Wiley Cash, whose first book was set deep in the backroads of Madison County. Cash is now working on a book about the strike at the Loray Mill in Gastonia, one of the most famous labor strikes in history.
Southern also talked about Salisbury and its history as a hub of activity and then as an important point between Greensboro and Charlotte. Lots of history happened here. He asked how many in the room were just a few generations removed from someone who had made a living with their hands.
He cited Dot Jackson’s book “Refuge” as a good example of some of the South’s familiar characters, including “the old witchy woman” of times past.
Southern has edited collections of first-person accounts about Jamestown and about the American Revolution, and is working on a novel set during the Revolutionary War. He works hard to set the novel in the past but not make it a history of the time period. He realized while writing, for example, that a character in the book enjoyed the smell of woodsmoke. “Well, that’s me,” Southern said. “I like the smell of woodsmoke because it’s so rare in our lives.” The man in the past wouldn’t have given it another thought. That smell was a constant in daily life.
Southern praised libraries as “just astounding resources. There are resources you can get here that are just amazing.”
Author Susan Woodring sat in on Southern’s talk and added that the N.C. Writers’ Network is a “phenomenal organization. Other writers from other states are very jealous of it,” she said.
The website for the network is http://www.ncwriters.org

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