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2023 A Look Back: Keeper of the Flame award

Gary Carden remains a Western North Carolina insitution. Gary Carden remains a Western North Carolina insitution. File photo

This little award may not mean all that much to him — after all, he’s one of Southern Appalachia’s most revered literary figures and has won a number of far more significant awards for his books and plays, including the Book of the Year Award from the Appalachian Writers Association in 2001, the Brown Hudson Award for Folklore in 2006 and the North Carolina Arts Council Award for Literature in 2012 — but we’re going to give it to him anyway because we’ve all been big fans of his work for a long time. 

Gary Carden, now in his late 80s, has played a leading role Western North Carolina’s arts scene for more than half a century. Of late, Carden’s career has experienced a bit of a resurgence despite health concerns and mobility challenges. Last year, Carden revived The Liar’s Bench, his longtime regular program of tall tales and mountain lore. This year, a documentary about Carden more than a quarter-century in the making premiered in his hometown of Sylva. Next year, a collection of Carden’s work will be published by Neal Hutcheson, the man behind the “Storyteller” documentary.

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In a world where authenticity has become increasingly rare, Carden remains a bright light of sincerity, both preserving and passing on the legacy of a unique culture that is rapidly disappearing. Thanks for everything, Gary Neil — you always was a queer yung’un, but maybe your blood isn’t quite as bad as they’d always told you it was.

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