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Ex-Chronicle paper boy sponsors literary contest

Cedric Brown visits Bookmarks during his recent trip to Winston-Salem from his home in California.

Ex-Chronicle paper boy sponsors literary contest
December 07
09:37 2018

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

Cedric Brown has lived for decades in northern California where he is a program executive for the Kapor Center, but he still considers North Carolina “home.” Growing up in Winston-Salem, he recalls his mother and grandfather reading The Chronicle, and he was once a Chronicle paper boy.

“I remember going to The Chronicle and picking up a stack of papers with a list of where they needed to be delivered,” he said during an interview on Nov. 30 at Bookmarks,a Winston-Salem bookstore. Brown graduated from R. J. Reynolds High School and received his undergraduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1989. He then moved to California and attended graduate school at Stanford.

Coming home to vacation with family at Kure Beach, he enjoyed browsing in bookstores and noticed the lack of books by African-American writers, in particular local authors. He was frustrated by being unable to find much fiction or nonfiction that “conveyed the rich and varied existence of black North Carolinians,” according to Brown.

This frustration led Brown to decide to create a literary competition for African-American writers in North Carolina and he reached out to Jaki Shelton Green, the poet laureate of North Carolina, for help. She recommended that Brown get in touch with the N.C Writers Network and that led to a partnership with the Writers Network and the Creative Writing Program at UNC-Chapel Hill.

When thinking about an appropriate name for the competition, Brown and Ed Southern with the Writers Network looked at early African-American writers from North Carolina and found two.  Harriet Jacobs was born in 1813 near Edenton and later escaped to Philadelphia, hiding for seven years in a crawl space in her grandmother’s ceiling. In 1861 she published her autobiography, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” She died in 1887 and was inducted into the N.C. Literary Hall of Fame in 1997.

The second African-American writer was Thomas H. Jones, who was born into slavery in 1806 near Wilmington. He was able to purchase freedom for his wife and all but one of his children and moved to New York in 1849. He wrote a memoir, “The Experience of Thomas Jones,” in 1854.

The inaugural literary competition is named the Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize and is open to any African-American writer who lives in North Carolina. The deadline for entries is Jan. 2, 2019, and the prize is $1,000. There is an entry fee of $10 for members of N.C. Writers Network and $20 for nonmembers. The entries are for unpublished creative fiction and nonfiction, such as memoirs, up to 3,000 words. Details on how to enter can be found at www.ncwriters.org, and click on the link for Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize. The winner of the prize will be published in The Carolina Quarterly, the literary journal of UNC-Chapel Hill. Rion Amilear Scott, an award-winning writer, will judge the contest. Brown hopes the literary prize will encourage black writers to “capture their lives through storytelling.”

Brown is author of a book of poetry, “Tar Heel Born: A Native Son Speaks on Race, Religion and Reconciliation,” and the novella, “Eyes of Water and Stone: From Havana with Love,” which are available on amazon.com.

Brown hopes this literary prize will encourage folks to “get their writing out there.” He would like to see a larger body of work created that reflects the stories of black North Carolinians.

“I would like to see a thriving presence of African-American writers in North Carolina bookstores,” he said. “If a community grows out of this, that would be great.” He added that he would like to see “high-quality work not only in North Carolina, but out in the world.”

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