Sylva: The region’s most literary town

Dave Waldrop reads during Open Mic last Friday night at City Lights Bookstore. About 15-20 people turned out for this monthly event. Photo by Quintin Ellison.

This story was written by Quintin Ellison, originally published in The Sylva Herald.

One day last week, Catherine Carter, a poet and professor in the English department at Western Carolina University, started sketching a bubble chart to illustrate how literary and artistic engagement dovetail in this community.

She didn’t complete the task.

“I ran out of paper. But the point is the intersections,” she said. “I mean, it’s a veritable web. It’s not just a university thing, the way it might be in some rural towns. I’ve lived in much larger places, and much more urban areas, that couldn’t offer anything like this richness in art and literature.”

Here are some of the local literary happenings:

Authors, such as novelist and poet Ron Rash, frequently hold book signings and readings at the Jackson County Library or City Lights Bookstore.

The bookstore hosts Open Mic, organized through the western chapter of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. This event provides professional and aspiring writers a venue to share their work. Also at City Lights, the writers’ group, dubbed NetWest, sponsors Coffee with the Poet series.

NetWest also hosts readings for students enrolled in WCU’s creative writing classes.

During the school year, Poetry Out Loud recitations are held in Jackson County Schools. The university has its own slam poetry group, Truthwriters. Almost every year (she’s skipping this one), poet Kay Byer organizes a student poetry contest for the Greening Up the Mountains festival, held April 22 in downtown Sylva.

Residents of northern Jackson County buy enough books to support four independent bookstores: City Lights, Harry Alter Books, The River Jordan Christian Store and Friends of the Library Used Bookstore. City Lights is expanding to the WCU campus as part of a bookstore/cafe combo in Noble Hall.

And that’s not the half of it. This spring, in particular, is shaping up as one for the books in Jackson County when it comes to noteworthy literary events.

From April 3 to April 7, the 15th-annual WCU Literary Festival takes place. On the festival’s first day, the Gilbert-Chappell poet readings are scheduled; these are sponsored by the N.C. Poetry Society.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, the Jackson County Library serves as the site for another Gilbert-Chappell Series event, with two poets reading: Benjamin Cutler, a Jackson County resident who teaches in Swain County, and Pat Riviere-Seel, the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet for the Western Region of North Carolina.

On May 6, A Day for Writers is scheduled in the Library’s community room. The NetWest conference features Terry Kay, author of 17 novels; Byer, the first woman to be appointed poet laureate of North Carolina; and Gary Carden, a Sylva folklorist, storyteller and playwright.