McCorkle Returns to Southern Pines to Discuss Books
Eighty years ago, Virginia Woolf sat on the banks of a river, thinking about a lecture she was asked to give about women and fiction.
After much consideration, she came to this conclusion: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
North Carolina author and Lumberton native Jill McCorkle’s first “room of her own” was a wooden crate her father intended to make into a storage shed.
“I was in second grade,” she recalls. “He had no sooner cut and hinged a door before I moved in. This became my writing place.”
Since then, McCorkle’s “writing place” is wherever she finds herself with a few moments to spare between meeting her family’s needs and the constraints of work as professor in the MFA creative writing program at N.C. State.
“As a student and a young single person, I had the luxury of — if not a daily schedule — at least a more structured schedule,” she says. “I had very definite ideas about the conditions I needed for writing. The years of work and raising children quickly snapped me out of all those beliefs that the world had to be just so in order to sit down and write. But life is such that I write when and wherever I can. I am as likely to be writing on a paper towel in a parking lot as anywhere else, because, in desperation, that’s the only way I can get there.”
For McCorkle, “there” has been nine critically-acclaimed novels and short-story collections, including “Carolina Moon,” “Ferris Beach,” “Final Vinyl Days” and “Going Away Shoes,” her first story collection in eight years.
On Tuesday, Nov. 9, at 2 p.m., in the auditorium at North Penick Village, Jill McCorkle will read and discuss some of the 11 stories in “Going Away Shoes.” The Meet the Author Event is presented by The Country Bookshop.
“Jill was here at the shop last October when her collection first came out,” says Beth Carpenter, book club coordinator for the bookshop. “We literally didn’t have enough room for everyone who came, so Jill offered to return with the paperback version (which was just released). We decided then and there we would take her to a larger venue to accommodate all the people who missed out the first time, and those who simply want to hear her again.
“We are always happy when authors tell us they’ve had such a wonderful time they want to come back. But when Jill agreed, we were simply thrilled. She is a fabulous, funny speaker and a master storyteller. She reads her stories with such feeling, it’s like the characters are right there in the room! I just can’t say enough about her!”
“I’ve been told that I’m funny,” McCorkle says. “I love to be funny, and I’m disappointed when I’m not. I think as a child it was wonderful to discover that I had this power to make myself laugh or cry, and of course that grew into wanting to have the effect on others. I look for humor and sure enough it can always be found — sometimes in the most serious of moments — as a way of handling the situation. The funniest things in life are very often tied to something quite heavy and dark. What’s being told isn’t usually funny, but the way it’s told is.
“Humor springs out of sorrow,” she adds. “Humor I see as a survival skill. You can have that funny moment, lighthearted with someone — laughing and talking, but if you really get to know that person clearly, there’s a lot more substance to an individual’s life than some brief light moment or what is humorous, and so I’m always looking for the bigger part of the story, the bigger parts of the individual. And sometimes I’m drawn to a character’s situation because it’s funny. But then if you stay with it long enough, there’s a lot more to be found.”
McCorkle had the opportunity of seeing her characters “come to life and start walking around” when her friend and mentor at UNC, legendary author Lee Smith, asked her to collaborate on a musical review, “Good Ol’ Girls,” which she describes as “something like ‘A Chorus Line’ for women.”
“We each sent Paul Ferguson, a theater professor at UNC-CH, a pile of work in the late 1990s,” McCorkle recalls. “Mine was monologues from my novels and short stories, and he put it all together.” A score of 16 songs by Matraca Berg, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Marshall Chapman, a pioneer rock ’n’ roll musician and composer, was added. Ferguson directed the first run at the N.C. Literary Festival in Chapel Hill in 2000.
“It’s a show with a lot of attitude,” Smith says, “but it’s really an affirmation of womanhood, ranging from childhood to the nursing home, bright futures to fading glories.”
The show has been staged more than a dozen different times, toured 15 cities in North and South Carolina, and was filmed by UNC-TV in Fayetteville. It premiered on UNC-TV in April 2009, and has aired on 73 stations in 11 states. In February, “Good Ol’ Girls’ played for a limited run Off-Broadway in New York City. The critic for The New York Times called it “a literary feminist country music revue.”
“We all liked that a lot,” McCorkle says, “especially the literary feminist part.”
Jill McCorkle graduated from Lumberton High School in 1976. She was a physical education major at UNC with aspirations of opening a little dance school and teaching ballet, when she stumbled into her first creative writing class taught by Lee Smith and “totally switched gears.”
“That was the first time it occurred to me that reasonably well-respected, responsible people could build a life around writing, that I could do something I loved,” McCorkle says.
She graduated in 1980, and completed the Hollins College master’s program in writing in 1981. Three years later she made publishing history at the age of 26 when her first two novels were published simultaneously by Algonquin. She has won the New England Book Award, the Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the NC Award for Literature.
Jill McCorkle is the Lee Smith Professor in Creative Writing at N.C. State. She lives with her husband in Hillsborough where she is working on another novel in a “room of her own.”
For information about the Meet the Author event, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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