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In search of the right word: Literary icons to converge on WCU

art frShowcasing the finest in Southern Appalachian and national writing talent, the Western Carolina University Spring Literary Festival comes into its 20th year with bevy of events, author appearances, readings and talks from April 8-11.


The literary fest brings together writers of local mountain origin and Southern writing genres — but a smattering of guests from outside the region also grace the schedule. It’s a chance for writers and book lovers to share their skills, talents and methods across a wide array of backgrounds and styles.

Among the featured authors this year are international sensation Daniel Woodrell (author of Winter’s Bone), Nikky Finney (National Book Award-winning poet) and Robert Morgan (North Carolina native and New York Times bestselling author). 

Directed this year by Pamela Duncan of the English Department, literary festival sponsors include WCU’s Visiting Writers Series; the Department of English; the Arts and Cultural Events Series; the Office of the Chancellor; the Office of the Provost; the Division of Student Affairs; and the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. The project also received support from the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.

Visitors may park in any spaces not designated as special-use.

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More information about the festival is available by calling 828.227.7264, emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visiting


Daniel Woodrell, fiction writer and author of Winter’s Bone. 7:30 p.m. April 9, University Center Theater.

From the Missouri Ozarks, Woodrell has published eight novels, including Winter’s Bone in 2006 and the PEN West Award-winning Tomato Red in 1998. His five most recent novels were selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. The film adaptation of Winter’s Bone received four 2011 Academy Award nominations and won the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Nikky Finney, National Book Award-winning poet. 7:30 p.m. April 11, Coulter Building.

Born in South Carolina, Finney was a child of activists who came of age during the civil rights and black arts movements. Finney has authored four books of poetry, which include Head Off & Split, The World Is Round, Rice and On Wings Made of Gauze. The Guy Davenport Endowed Professor in the Department of English at the University of Kentucky, Finney also authored Heartwood and co-founded the Affrilachian Poets.

Robert Morgan, bestselling poet/fiction/nonfiction writer. 6 p.m. April 10, Sylva Public Library.

A reception will precede Morgan’s presentation. He is the author of 14 books of poetry, most recently 2011’s Terroir. He also has published eight volumes of fiction, including Gap Creek, a New York Times bestseller. The sequel to it, The Road From Gap Creek, will be published in 2013. Morgan’s nonfiction includes Boone: A Biography and Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion. Born in Hendersonville, he has taught since 1971 at Cornell University, where he is Kappa Alpha Professor of English.

Randall Kenan, acclaimed fiction/nonfiction writer. 7:30 p.m. April 8, University Center Theater.

Kenan is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Sherwood Anderson Award, the 1997 Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the North Carolina Award for Literature in 2005. Currently, he is associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Chris Holbrook and Mark Powell, fiction writers. 4 p.m. April 9, University Center Theater.

Holbrook and Mark Powell will give a literary discussion. Holbrook is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His 1995 collection of stories Hell and Ohio: Stories of Southern Appalachia received the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing. Powell is author of three novels, which include Prodigals, Blood Kin and The Dark Corner. He lives in Florida, where he teaches at Stetson University.

Richard Chess, distinguished poet. 12 p.m. April 8, University Center Theater.

The Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poets Series will feature Chess and student poets. Chess is the author of three books of poetry, which includes Tekiah, Chair in the Desert and Third Temple. He is the Roy Carroll Professor of Honors Arts & Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he also directs UNC Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies.

Stephanie Powell Watts and Bob Watts, poets/short-story writers. 4 p.m. April 10, University Center Theater.

Stephanie Powell Watts was awarded the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence for her debut story collection We Are Taking Only What We Need in 2012. Her work chronicles the lives of young African-Americans who come from, or live near, the “dark houses out on tangled dirt roads on the fringes of the county.” Bob Watts’ first collection Past Providence won the 2004 Stanzas Prize from David Robert Books. His poems have been published in Poetry, The Paris Review and Redivider, among other journals. The couple, founding co-editors of Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts, began the journal at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle and Dawn Gilchrist-Young, local writers. 4 p.m. April 11, University Center Theater.

The duo will share from their fiction-writing careers. Clapsaddle grew up in Cherokee and has produced Cherokee Elders: Our Greatest Generation, along with a series of children’s books, including The Elder Tree, True Blue and What Wonders. She taught English and Cherokee studies at Swain High School for several years. In 2013, Clapsaddle was named executive director of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. Gilchrist-Young, who earned a master of fine arts degree in poetry from Warren Wilson College, has taught the last 15 years at Swain County High School, where she graduated in 1981. Her stories include “The Tender Branch,” which won the inaugural Norman Mailer High School Teacher Writing Award in 2011. She also won the 2005 Western North Carolina Woman Short Fiction Award.

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