Homecoming: Come on back now, y’all.

Any event at 9 a.m. on a Saturday has got to be pretty great to feel worthwhile and keep my attention. Saturday morning’s panel at East Carolina University’s Literary Homecoming did not disappoint. The panel featured Pamela Duncan and Jim Grimsley, both discussing their relationship with Eastern North Carolina.

Pamela Duncan is from the western part of the state; however, her most recent book was set in Carteret County. Jim Grimsley grew up in Edgecombe County, but now lives in Atlanta, so it was a true homecoming for Grimsley. I came into this panel as a fan of Pamela Duncan’s Moon Women but left as a huge fan of Grimsley’s as well.

Eastern North Carolina as a setting and place is  an integral part of my writing, so this talk really got me inspired about the people and landscape that shaped me. In some ways, I’ve been having my own homecoming for the last few months. I know some people would think I was only in Raleigh, what’s the big deal, right? However, Eastern North Carolina will always be my home, and it’s different from any other place. This doesn’t mean that I’ll always live here, but it does mean that the word home=Eastern NC. That connotation will never separate for me.

Jim Grimsley, a wonderful and funny speaker, lovingly talked about Eastern North Carolina yet also called it “complicated and convoluted.” I have to agree. I love this state and place as much as anyone, but I also struggle with its complications–racism, poverty, right wing leanings, etc. However, Grimsley made a good point–we’re complicated because we actually talk to each other, meaning in the city people ignore one another even though they’re in close proximity to each other but in the “country” people talk, so things get complicated quickly. The more you interact and talk, the more you create complications. This makes sense to me. I know that’s the truth when it comes to family.We’re willing to take the complications along with the communication. As Grimsley said, “You can’t hide from people in the country.” This means if you don’t like your neighbor, you’re going to know about it. You can’t simply ignore your differences.

The comment Grimsley made that really struck me was directly about his family. He spoke about how they don’t get excited about any of his “big book awards.” They say, “Well, isn’t that nice,” and go on about their business. It’s not that his family doesn’t care about his achievements, but they’re already as proud as they could be of him, so what’s an award matter? What matters to the people of Eastern North Carolina is family and food (two words synonymous with each other). You can have all the awards in the world, but if you’re rude to our sister or our BBQ, we really don’t tend to like you very much.

See how I phrased that last sentence like a true southerner? Translation: Get the hell off my porch if you don’t like my family or my cooking.

Seriously though, I felt home today, among my tribe, as I listened to the Southern accents around me.

We’ve got is so good down here, y’all.

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