By Debra Simon


North Carolina is "the writingest state," famously noted the late Doris Betts, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor and acclaimed author of short stories, essays and novels, who's enshrined in the N.C. Literary Hall of Fame (


Other celebrated personalities in the hall include Maya Angelou, Clyde Edgerton, John Hope Franklin, Jaki Shelton Green, Allan Gurganus, Reynolds Price, Carl Sandburg, Lee Smith, Elizabeth Spencer, Tom Wicker and Thomas Wolfe.


So, we're thrilled to announce that Jill McCorkle of Hillsborough, Marsha White Warren of Chapel Hill and the late Penelope Niven of Winston-Salem are joining the 60 writers who're currently honored. The induction ceremony takes place in early October at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities in Southern Pines.


The N.C. Literary Hall of Fame is a program of the nonprofit N.C. Writers' Network, the state's largest literary arts services group. The organization, which has adopted "the writingest state" as its slogan, and the Weymouth Center collaborate on this with the N.C. Center for the Book, the N.C. Humanities Council and the N.C. Collection of the Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill.


Perhaps the neatest thing to know is that the N.C. Literary Hall of Fame is an actual brick-and-mortar place in Southern Pines. It's free and open to the public, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


Carolina Woman asked McCorkle and White as well as Jennifer Niven, daughter of Penelope Niven: "What does North Carolina mean to you - in terms of its writing and its people?"


Jill McCorkle

Jill McCorkle holds the distinction of having her first two novels published on the same day in 1984. Since then, she has published four more novels and four collections of short stories. Five of her titles have been named New York Times notable books, while three of her stories have appeared in "Best American Short Stories" anthologies.


McCorkle has received the New England Booksellers Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature and the N.C. Award for Literature.


The native of Lumberton has taught at UNC-Chapel Hill, Tufts and Brandeis. For five years, she was a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Fiction at Harvard, where she also chaired Creative Writing. She currently teaches creative writing in the MFA Program at N.C. State University in Raleigh and is a core faculty member of the Bennington College Writing Seminars.


"North Carolina is home for me, and even though I have lived elsewhere, this state has always informed my writing life. Perhaps it is because I am always reaching back to my first awareness of wanting to write, and those childhood memories lead me straight to my playhouse in the backyard of my childhood home in Lumberton. The house had been a crate that housed a knitting machine, but my dad cut a window and door, and it soon became my favorite place. Every work space I have ever had has been my attempt to recreate that 6-by-6 box, and when I'm there, I automatically visualize all that surrounds me: my hometown, the Lumber River, the ocean just a little over an hour away."


–Jill McCorkle



Marsha White Warren

Marsha White Warren was an elementary school teacher, poet and children's book author when she became executive director of the N.C. Writers' Network in 1987, only two years after its founding. She served in that role until 1996.


During those years, she helped Sam Ragan develop and open the N.C. Literary Hall of Fame and served on numerous state and national literary
boards and as a consultant to literary centers in Tennessee, Massachusetts and Idaho.
In 1991, she became director of the Paul Green Foundation. In that position, she has overseen more than half a million dollars in grants to nonprofits that support the arts and human rights.


Her honors include the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities, R. Hunt Parker Memorial Award for Lifetime Contributions to Literature, Sam Ragan Award for Contributions to the Fine Arts and an honorary Doctor of Letters from St. Andrews College.


"When I moved from my native Ohio in 1961 to North Carolina, I came to realize that I wasn't really a Northerner, at all. Mother from Kentucky and Daddy from West Virginia raised me like a Southern child and, somehow, I was home. These were my people who had double names like I did, told stories and talked to complete strangers in grocery store lines. Not a writer in my youth, I was now led, as if by a pied piper, into the writing community, and I began to write poems and stories, and once I'd changed from teacher to arts administrator, I wrote articles and grants to support other writers' work. In North Carolina, words are in the air–all you have to do is breathe them in."


–Marsha White Warren


Penelope Niven

Penelope Niven (1939-2014) was the critically acclaimed author of "Carl Sandburg: A Biography;" "Steichen: A Biography" and "Thornton Wilder: A Life." "Carl Sandburg: Adventures of a Poet," a biography for children, received a 2004 International Reading Association Prize "for exceptionally distinguished literature for children." She was also co-author, with the actor James Earl Jones, of "Voices and Silences." Her memoir, "Swimming Lessons," was published in 2004.


Niven received the N.C. Award for Literature, the state's highest civilian honor, for her work as a writer and a teacher. She founded and directed the national Carl Sandburg Oral History Project and was three times a recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships.


She lectured across the United States and in Switzerland, Canada and Great Britain, and served as a consultant for television films on Sandburg, Jones, Steichen and Wilder.
At the time of her death in 2014, Niven lived in Winston-Salem, where she had spent 12 years as Writer-in-Residence at Salem College. The native of Waxhaw held two honorary doctorates.


"My mother lived most of her life in North Carolina. She grew up in a little town outside of Charlotte. The town was tiny but enormous in characters and stories. It was here she first started writing. There was something in the place and its people that inspired her. Something musical and dark and hopeful and larger than life, yet so very relatable to the larger world. She loved her home state, saying, 'My life has been profoundly shaped and enriched because of North Carolina. I found here "life and food" for the mind, the spirit, and the heart – past, present, and future.'"


–Jennifer Niven, bestselling author and daughter of Penelope Niven