Poet James Applewhite to Speak at Friends of Hackney Library Fall Dinner on Oct. 7

Reservations accepted through September 30.

Dr. James Applewhite (Photo courtesy of Duke University)
Dr. James Applewhite (Photo courtesy of Duke University)

WILSON, N.C. – The Barton College Friends of Hackney Library welcomes renowned poet and Wilson County native James Applewhite as the featured speaker for its Fall Dinner and Lecture on Tuesday, Oct. 7. The event will be held in Hardy Alumni Hall, and begins at 6 p.m. with a wine reception and book signing. The dinner and lecture will follow at 7 p.m. Copies of Applewhite’s works will be sold during the book signing and following the program. This event is sponsored in part by BB&T.

Reservations are required. Tickets for the dinner event are $35 per person, with reservations accepted through Tuesday, Sept. 30. Members of the Barton College Friends of Hackney Library may reserve tickets for $30 per person. Table reservations must be for a total of eight persons. Please contact Luann Clark at 399-6329 or the Friends at fohl@barton.edu for reservation information.

Known as “the Dean of North Carolina Poetry,” Applewhite has numerous volumes of poetry, literary critiques, and articles to his credit, andhe is the recipient of a variety of literary honors and awards. Moreover, he has 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. He received his Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, 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 has served for more than 30 years at Duke University as an instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, professor, and presently as professor emeritus.

He has published numerous poetry collections, dating back to his first compilation, “Statues of the Grass,” in 1975. Other selections include “Following Gravity” (1980); “Ode to the Chinaberry Tree and Other Poems” (1986); “Lessons in Soaring” (1990); “Quartet for Three Voices” (2002); and his latest collection, “Cosmos: A Poem,” which was released 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.”

In an edition of “Contemporary Writers: New Revision Series,” 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.” 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.”

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.’”

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.