As a teenager in Fayetteville, Neil Ray found his passion for writing poetry and noticed there wasn’t a prominent community of poets in the city, so he started one.
Since the late 1990s, Ray has worked to build up the poetry community in the Fayetteville area. As a member of the Writer’s Guild, a Fayetteville writers group, he said he helped it create its first newsletter called The Ink Pad. He also started hosting Java Expressions at The Coffee Scene, which is still held today.
“That’s probably one of the longest events that we’ve ever had, especially since it started at a time where it may seem to some people we were doing things in Fayetteville at that time was real new in the arts kind of way,” he said.
Ray, a Terry Sanford High School alumni, said he found his niche in writing poetry while in high school and would even write poetry for people in exchange for lunch money.
After high school, he served in the military for four years but he had a love for music and poetry that stayed strong.
In 2012, Ray started the Poetry Festival because he said Fayetteville deserved one.
“I’m a community guy,” he said. “I grew up in Fayetteville and I love my city, I love what it does. It’s not perfect but none of them will ever be so I had no problem with that, and I said ‘we should have something like this.'”
Ray eventually passed the torch of the poetry festival to LeJuan “El’Ja” Bowens who he said has transformed the festival in a great way.