The Iredell County Public Library hosted distinguished teacher, novelist, and poet Dr. Anthony S. Abbott on Sunday, February 14, 2010 in Statesville for a special lecture and book signing. Dr. Abbott is Professor Emeritus of English at Davidson College where he served as Department Chair from 1989 to 1996. His first novel, “Leaving Maggie Hope” published in 2003 received the Novello Literary Award and ForeWord Magazine’s Gold Award for literary fiction. He lectured and signed copies of his recent book, “New and Selected Poem 1989 – 2009.”
Dr. Abbott was born in San Francisco and educated at Fay School in Massachusetts and the Kent School in Connecticut, but now calls North Carolina his home. “I moved to North Carolina in 1964. I have immersed myself in North Carolina writers like Lee Smith, Reynolds Price, Doris Betts, Fred Chappell, and feel that North Carolina has become my home. Many of my poems are set in North Carolina, and of course I feel a deeper sense of love for Davidson College than I do for my own Alma Mater, Princeton. Davidson has become home for us, even if we did at one time come from the North.” I asked Dr. Abbott how he himself went about finding things to read. “Great question. I have taught at Davidson College for 45 years and so have, as a college professor, tried to keep up with the very best writers and have often depended on the judgement of my colleagues in the English Department who teach contemporary fiction and poetry. The New York Times Book Review is very helpful, but mostly I depend on professional colleagues and other writers.”
Dr. Abbott sites North Carolina as being home to some of the best writers, “Reynolds Price is amazing, Lee Smith I love and admire greatly, Fred Chappell is our greatest living poet. I love Doris Betts, who, of course, is from Statesville. Those would be my four favorites.” As to what works today will someday be looked back upon as classics, Dr. Abbott says, “This is always hard to tell, because the most popular books often are not the ones that become classics. Fifty years from now what books from today or from, say, the last fifty years, will people be reading? Flannery O'Connor, I hope John Updike, Philip Roth, and certainly Toni Morrison. A book I love very much that I hope will become a classic is "The Second Coming" by Walker Percy. And since J.D. Salinger just died, let me say that hope people will always keep reading “Catcher in the Rye.”
I asked Dr. Abbott how he went about selecting which poems to put in, “New & Selected.”I sat down with Allison Elrod, the Associate Editor of Lorimer Press, and we both made lists of the ten or twelve best poems in each of the first four books. Our lists were remarkably similar. We found in the poems we had selected the presence of my daughter, Lynnie, who died in 1967 and who still haunts my dreams and imagination today. We also found, as Fred Chappell points out, the need to find language for that which is virtually inexpressible, but still must be expressed.” He says that his novels, “Leaving Maggie Hope” and its sequel, “The Three Great Secret Things” are autobiographical. “Suffice it to say I was sent off to boarding school myself at the age of nine and both novels have boarding school settings that are based on Fay School in Massachusetts and Kent School in Connecticut, which are my schools. Most of the family situation is autobiographical also, but changed in many ways from what actually happened.”
Dr. Abbott feels that libraries are still as relevant and needed today as they have ever been. “Of course, I lived in libraries and still do. I love libraries and the feel and look of books and much prefer holding a book in my hand to reading on the computer. I love the idea of the library as a public place. I love, today, to walk into libraries and see people of all ages reading and working at computer stations. A library is a place where you can go to study, to read, to write, to keep warm no matter what your income or walk of life. It's a critically important part of life in a democracy. It still is....” Dr. Abbott’s program was free and open to the public and sponsored by the Iredell Friends of the Library.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Noted author, Davidson professor to speak, sign” on Feb. 3, 2010.