Posts Tagged With: North Caroliniana Society Book Award

Speechifying: The North Caroliniana Book Award

One of the awards that “Step It Up and Go” won was the 2020 North Caroliniana Society Book Award, which was an honor and a thrill. But it was also a challenge because it involved giving an acceptance speech — something I’ve never been called upon to do before.

I’ve done just enough readings and such to where the prospect of public speaking no longer causes panic attacks, but it’s still a bit out of my comfort zone. As always, I kept it brief. The speech, recorded last October, is up now on the North Caroliniana Society website.

I came to North Carolina about 30 years ago not knowing a soul, to take the music-writer job at the Raleigh News & Observer. A very vivid memory of my early days here was turning on the radio in the car one night and hearing one of Raleigh’s rock stations playing that old 1970s warhorse, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” I lunged for the dial, as I always do when that one comes on, and switched over to Raleigh’s other big commercial rock station – which, as it happened, was also playing (yes) “Free Bird.”

The only thing to do was head for the left side of the dial, where the college and public stations dwell, and that proved to be where I hung out most of the time. As I did, I came to discover that North Carolina is a state with an amazing musical past, present and future. I was already familiar with some of the broad-brush highlights, like Doc and Earl. But North Carolina music was always surprising me.

“Oh, Nina Simone is from here? Wow. John Coltrane, too? And Link Wray? Libba Cotten? Let’s Active? Andy Griffith? And half of James Brown’s best band?!”

There were lots of other people, places and things to learn about, more obscure but no less vital. Like Charlie Poole, a pre-bluegrass string-band legend from the roaring ’20s; the “5” Royales, r&b pioneers from Winston-Salem; and UNC alumnus Orville Campbell’s very quirky label here in Chapel Hill, Colonial Records.

I was fortunate to work for 28 years at a newspaper that valued storytelling and history. So I was permitted to roam the state to document a lot of what I learned. And at a certain point, all this wonderful music and history started to seem like one big interconnected story worthy of a book.

Turning that into this book, “Step It Up & Go,” was a challenge, a long haul spanning many years. It was a true labor of love, and I needed help from a long list of enablers starting with the folks at UNC Press. I would also like to extend gratitude to Suzanne Brown, who hired me at the News & Observer way back when and was my editor and guide for many years; to my best friend and fellow soldier in the writing wars, Scott Huler; “Kindness Ninja” Joe Newberry and other sounding-board spirit guides for expert and invaluable advice; and finally, to my wife Martha Burns, who has always been patient and gracious when I’m on the book-writing grind.

Thanks to all of them, and also to the North Caroliniana Society for this award, which feels like a marvelous acknowledgement of all the work that went into “Step It Up & Go.” I am honored and thrilled. Thank you.

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Contest season: The Ragan Old North State Award for Nonfiction

Looks like I’ve got a shot in at least one more contest, the Ragan Old North State Award for Nonfiction, in which “Step It Up and Go” is one of 10 finalists for the 2020-21 entry year.

Established in 2003 as successor to two earlier awards (the Mayflower Cup and Patterson Cup), the Ragan award is named for poet, critic and publisher Sam Ragan, who was also the first secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and cultural Resources. The award is overseen and presented by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association; and if it’s on the same schedule as past years, the winner should be announced in November.

(UPDATE/JANUARY 2022: And the winner of the Ragan Old North State Award for Nonfiction is Gregory S. Taylor’s “Central Prison: A History of North Carolina’s State Penitentiary.” Congratulations to him, and to all my fellow nominees.)

At this point, though, I’m just glad to be in the field at all, alongside some very worthy books and authors, because it feels like I’m playing with house money. “Step It Up and Go” has already won the North Caroliniana Society Book Award for “the book that captures the essence of North Carolina by contributing powerfully to an understanding of the state,” and was also First Runner-Up in the Eric Hoffer Awards’ “Culture” category.

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North Caroliniana Society award-winner

Resources | Understanding the American South

I am honored and thrilled to announce that “Step It Up and Go” has picked up another very nice accolade — the annual book award from the North Caroliniana Society, a group that is “Dedicated to the Promotion and Increased Knowledge and Appreciation of North Carolina’s Heritage.”

The North Caroliniana Society Book Award recognizes “the book that captures the essence of North Carolina by contributing powerfully to an understanding of the state.” It is also to be one that “makes a positive contribution and appears to have the best chance of standing the test of time as a classic volume of North Caroliniana.”

This award was established in 2003 and comes with an engraved silver cup, to be presented in a ceremony on Oct. 6. Notable past winners include the 2004 historical memoir “Blood Done Sign My Name” by historian Timothy B. Tyson, and 2014’s “Talkin’ Tar Heel: How Our Voices Tell the Story of North Carolina.”

In another first for me, this makes makes two awards that “Step It Up and Go” has won. Last month, it was First Runner-Up in the “Culture” category of the Eric Hoffer Awards.

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