Carden Kicks Off Ragan Writers Series
Kicking off the 2012-2013 Ragan Writers Series at Weymouth will be Gary Carden, 77-year-old playwright and recent recipient of the 2012 North Carolina Award for Literature, the highest civilian award given by the state.
Carden is a former English and drama teacher who segued into a successful award-winning and popular playwright.
Carden, who lives in Sylva, in the western North Carolina Mountains, will perform scenes from his plays on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 3 p.m. at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, 555 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines.
His website, www.TanneryWhistle.net, describes his work as "storytelling, folk stories, myths, legends and folk art."
Some of his work is based on true events. He is also a self-described playwright and folklorist.
Carden came up the hard way. Raised by his grandparents, he had polio as a child, but that enabled him to receive a college education through Vocational Rehabilitation.
He attended Western Carolina Teachers College (now Western Carolina University), graduated in 1958, and later earned his master's degree. He taught English and drama for 15 years, and for another 15 years worked for the Eastern Band of Cherokees, receiving the Peace Pipe Award from the Economic Development Commission in Washington, D.C.
Hearing problems cut short his career as a teacher and play director, but he had already started writing plays, starting with "The Uktena," based on a Cherokee legend. It won the New Plays Festival in Atlanta in 1982.
He proceeded to write more plays, including the autobiographical "The Raindrop Waltz," which has been performed more than 300 times. He's also done a series of dramatic monologues, compiling three into a full-length play called "Land's End," but all three are now done separately as "Jessie Racer," "Nance Dude" and "Coy."
"Nance Dude" is based on a true story, he says, and a Burnsville actress named Elizabeth Westall is a popular performer of that work.
Another play, "Prince of Dark Corners," has been done "several hundred times," he says, and has been filmed and shown on PBS. Most of his work has been performed in libraries and sponsored by the N.C. Humanities Council.
His play "Birdell," based on an elderly woman who lost her home in Hazel Creek when the Tennessee Valley Authority built Fontana Dam in the 1940s, is very popular in western North Carolina. He recently did "Mother Jones," and finally "Outlander," premiering at the Parkway Playhouse with a production grant from the Paul Green Foundation.
"Outlander" may become an annual event in Bryson City, where it takes place.
As if he weren't busy enough already, Carden has a storytelling/drama/ music program every third Thursday, which is now in its third year. It is called "The Liars Bench" and is based at the Mountain Heritage Center at WCU.
Carden has written a book, "Mason Jars in the Flood," that won the Book of the Year Award from the Appalachian Writers Association. He's also received the Brown Hudson Folklore Award and the Playwright Award from the North Carolina Arts Council. For many years, Carden attended annual competitions in Chapel Hill with the Carolina PlayMakers.
His play "Signs and Wonders" will be produced at the White Horse Saloon in Black Mountain in December.
Tickets are $10 and may be purchased at the door, or in advance from The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, Arts Council of Moore County, Given Book Shop in Olmsted Village, Pinehurst, or in advance from Weymouth's office.
For information call (910) 692-6261 or visit www.weymouth.org.
More like this story