Poet laureate is a coveted position in North Carolina’s literary world. Fred Chappell and Sam Ragan are among the nationally known previous laureates, while outgoing Laureate Joseph Bathanti has published a dozen books and won major awards, including the Carolina Novel Award and the Sam Ragan Fine Arts Award.
Bathanti’s two-year term is up, and a new poet laureate was announced Friday: Valerie Macon of Fuquay-Varina, a state employee whose publication résumé consists of two self-published poetry collections. Given the stature of the poet laureate position, the thinness of the largely unknown Macon’s poetry output and the fact that Gov. Pat McCrory made his selection with no input from the North Carolina Arts Council – which oversaw nominating and vetting in previous years – North Carolina’s poetry community reacted to her appointment with swift vehemence.
Kathryn Stripling Byer, who was poet laureate from 2005 to 2009, called McCrory’s handling of it “a slap in the face” even as she pledged to help Macon with her new position.
“While the governor is not bound by law to consult with the Arts Council, it’s supposed to be an open, transparent, democratic process,” said Byer. “It does very much seem to us that he either didn’t know what he was supposed to do, or he just didn’t give a damn, frankly.”