After previous flap, McCrory chooses Johnston County writer as North Carolina poet laureate

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — An award-winning writer from Johnston County is Gov. Pat McCrory's choice as North Carolina's next poet laureate after his original pick departed last summer following criticism from the arts community over the selection process.

McCrory announced Monday the appointment of Shelby Stephenson, a retired English professor at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke and former editor of a literary magazine who's published many poetry collections.

He's received the North Carolina Award for literature and is North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame inductee.

The governor's original choice resigned less than a week into her two-year appointment.

McCrory said in a release he recognizes that the traditional process was not followed in selecting Valerie Macon in July. But he said Stephenson's appointment comes with strong recommendations from Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz and a literary selection panel.

Former poet laureate Joseph Bathanti praised Stephenson's selection.

"Shelby is not only one of the state's great poets — with an unimpeachable reputation as a writer, critic and scholar that extends well beyond North Carolina's borders — but he and his generous spirit are much beloved. This is wonderful news not only for all the readers and writers in North Carolina, but for each of its citizens," he told The Associated Press.

Stephenson's installation ceremony is in February.

The poet laureate acts as an ambassador — using the office to promote North Carolina writers — and receives a $15,000 stipend.

Stephenson said he hopes to pursue three projects during his tenure: Writing workshops in assisted living and retirement communities; raising awareness of local archives and family histories, and promoting writings about farm life in North Carolina.

He said the projects are inspired by his personal life, adding that he recently settled his wife into assisted living "where she has met people with wonderful stories."

The botched selection of Macon — a disability examiner for the state who had self-published two books of poetry — touched off a firestorm in the North Carolina arts community.

The governor had bypassed the traditional selection process, where a committee of writers, appointed by the North Carolina Arts Council, recommends poets to the governor for his ultimate selection.

Instead, McCrory said he chose Macon from among poets his staff recommended.

Four previous poets laureate, including Bathanti, criticized McCrory for bypassing the typical process, which they said had ensured the person selected was "a poet and educator of singular accomplishment."

Forty-four people were nominated for the post this time around, with 24 withdrawing from consideration, McCrory spokesman Rick Martinez said. The selection committee chose from the 20 remaining, he said.

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