Poet James Applewhite (Photo Credit: Les Todd/Duke University Photography)
Renowned poet James Applewhite, Wilson County native and Professor Emeritus of English at Duke University, will be the featured speaker at the Friends of Hackney Library’s Fall 2014 Book Signing, Dinner, and Lecture.
The event will take place on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 in Barton College’s Hardy Alumni Hall. A wine reception and book signing will be held from 6-6:45 pm, with the dinner and lecture following at 7:00 pm. Copies of Applewhite’s works will be available for purchase during the book signing and following the dinner/program.
Referred to by the North Carolina Literary Review’s editors as “the Dean of North Carolina Poetry,” Applewhite has numerous volumes of poetry, literary critiques, and articles to his credit and is the recipient of a variety of literary honors and awards. Moreover, he has had a poetry competition named in his honor—“The James Applewhite Poetry Prize Competition”—established in 2011 and administered by the North Carolina Literary Review to recognize the accomplished work of North Carolina poets.
Applewhite was raised on a tobacco farm in Stantonsburg in Wilson County. He received his bachelor of arts, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in English, all from Duke University. He served as an instructor and later as an assistant professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and for over thirty years at Duke University as an instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, professor, and presently as professor emeritus.
He has published numerous poetry collections—including the following:
- Statues of the Grass (1975), his first collection;
- Following Gravity (1980), which won the Associated Writing Programs award in poetry;
- Foreseeing the Journey (1983);
- Ode to the Chinaberry Tree and Other Poems, A History of the River, and Selected Poems, which received the Roanoke-Chowan Poetry Award in 1986, 1993, and 2005, respectively;
- River Writing: An Eno Journal, recipient of the 1987 Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets publication award;
- Lessons in Soaring, recipient of the North Carolina Poetry Society’s Zoe Kincaid Brockman Memorial Award, (1990);
- Daytime and Starlight, recipient of the North Carolina Poetry Society’s Brockman-Campbell Award, (1998)
- Quartet for Three Voices, (2002)
His latest is Cosmos: A Poem, slated for release by LSU Press in April 2014.
In addition to his own poetry collections, he has also published poems in anthologies, essays and articles in literary journals, book chapters and introductions to books, and volumes of critical essays.
According to Richard Flynn’s article on Applewhite in the Dictionary of Literary Biography’s American Poets Since World War II, Second Series, Applewhite’s poetry
concerns the tension implicit in the relationships between language and landscape, past and present, childhood and maturity, and the rewards and limitations of his love for the narrative and family traditions of the South. Applewhite works within and against these dualities, writing in both traditional meters and free verse. An accomplished critic as well as a poet, he notes that his work is influenced by such diverse figures as William Wordsworth and Jackson Pollock (vol. 105, p. 11).
Applewhite says of his work, “I have been concerned for some time with the interaction of my own native southern American speech and the literary tradition of poetry in English. . . . I suppose I am working to assimilate literary English and southern reality to one another” (Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, vol. 199, p. 10). Yet despite the intense sense of the South reflected in his work, appreciation of Applewhite’s poetry extends far beyond the region: Southern Cultures author Robert M. West is quoted in the same Contemporary Authors article as saying that in Applewhite’s poetry, especially in his Selected Poems, “we see a poet who deserves acclaim not just across the South, but across the nation” (p. 10).
And not only across the nation; indeed, when British author V. S. Naipaul visited the American South in the late 1980s and documented his insights gleaned during that visit in his book A Turn in the South, Naipaul “selected a certain quiet, unassuming man [James Applewhite] to take him around North Carolina. Naipaul wanted someone who could show him the farms, churches, graveyards, and universities, and explain the history of the land,” says Jynne Dilling Martin in her article about Applewhite in Duke Magazine’s Nov/Dec 2002 issue. She continues, “Naipaul repeatedly marvels at how much he and Applewhite have in common, though they come from such different worlds. . . . Toward the end of A Turn in the South, Naipaul calls his conversations with Applewhite ‘extraordinary.’”
Richard Flynn remarks on the subtle but enduring importance of Applewhite’s poetry:
James Applewhite’s work has received little critical attention. In the era of the literary carnival, his poetry develops a quiet engagement with personal history that must be proclaimed almost tentatively. Yet his remarkable growth as a poet since 1983 and his increasing critical acumen promise him a valued place among contemporary poets. . . . Applewhite’s resolute affirmation of [what V. S. Naipaul characterizes as Applewhite’s “sanctity of the smallest gestures”] may not call great attention to itself, but it may well be more enduring than the pyrotechnical displays of more fashionable contemporaries (American Poets Since World War II, p. 18).
Attesting to the high esteem in which Applewhite is held are the numerous fellowships and honors he has been awarded over the years, among them Duke University’s Alumni Outstanding Teacher Award in 1974; a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 1974-75; a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, 1976-77; the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Jean Stein Award in Poetry, 1993; the R. Hunt Parker Memorial Award, 1994; the North Carolina Award in Literature, 1995; election to the Fellowship of Southern Writers, 1995; and induction into the North Carolina Literary hall of Fame, 2008.
Please join us for an enjoyable evening with this native son turned poetic master.
Tickets are $30 for Friends members and Barton faculty/staff, students, and spouses, and $35 for all others.
For more information about invitations for the dinner, please contact Luann Clark at (252) 399-6329, or email the Friends at email@example.com. Space is limited, and after invitations have been issued, reservations for the dinner must be received by September 30, 2014.
This event is sponsored in part by BB&T.