NC gov defends his self-published poet laureate

Associated PressJuly 16, 2014 

Valerie Macon

This photo provided by the Department of Cultural Resources shows Valerie Macon, North Carolina’s new state poet laureate. Gov. Pat McCrory named Valerie Macon of Fuquay-Varina to a two-year term as North Carolina's next poet laureate. He said he looked forward "to the unique perspective and style she will bring to the office."

DEPARTMENT OF CULTURAL RESOURCES — AP Photo

— North Carolina's governor, facing criticism that he bypassed a traditional selection process in choosing a poet laureate with only two self-published books to her name, said Wednesday he seeks to give opportunities to those who aren't part of "elite groups."

But Gov. Pat McCrory also said he would review the selection process he used after picking Valerie Macon to serve a two-year term in the high-profile position. A disability examiner for the state, Macon has two self-published books of poetry and a dedication to helping the homeless.

Several previous poets laureate have criticized McCrory for bypassing the traditional though not obligatory process of involving the North Carolina Arts Council in the selection.

"We were not aware of the traditional process that was in place," McCrory said Wednesday. "It wasn't written down anywhere on the walls."

When told the guidelines once were on the Arts Council's website, McCrory replied: "We must have missed that website."

The sections on the selection process have disappeared from the council's website.

However, the governor's news release about Macon's appointment included some of the same guidelines as those of the council: "Guidelines call for the poet to be a North Carolinian with deep connections to the cultural life of this state, literary excellence and influence on other writers and appreciation of literature in its diversity throughout the state ..."

The Arts Council also said the poet laureate should have: an appreciation of literature in its diversity throughout the state; a statewide, national or international reputation; and an ability and willingness to engage in the public duties of the office.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Macon said she does not have a national or international reputation. Asked if she has a statewide reputation, she replied: "I don't know. There have been people who have told me they read my book, and they come from another state. It's hard to judge."

McCrory said Wednesday that one of his objectives is to open appointments to people who aren't part of "the standard or even elite groups ... It's good to welcome new voices and new ideas."

In naming Macon, McCrory noted her self-published books "Shelf Life" and "Sleeping Rough." His original statement said she also had served as a regional distinguished poet in North Carolina.

Macon has since confirmed she wasn't the distinguished poet but was mentored by a poet who had won that honor.

Typically, the poet laureate receives a stipend of up to $15,000 for a two-year project. Wayne Martin, executive director of the N.C. Arts Council, said there are no plans now to award a grant to Macon, although that could change if she develops a project that has public value.

"I have had a chance to meet her, and I'm excited about the focus of her work," Martin said. "She's very interested in shedding light on the issues of people who are homeless, and she's worked very hard on that. I think she has a lot of potential to do good work."

Follow Martha Waggoner at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

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