Gov. Pat McCrory is facing scrutiny over his decision to name a fairly unknown Fuquay-Varina woman as the state’s top poet.
Valerie Macon was named Friday as North Carolina’s poet laureate, and has self-published two collections of poetry through a small Sylva-based publisher, Old Mountain Press. (Click here and here to read some of her poems).
The state poet laureate position is largely ceremonial but past poet laureates have received stipends of up to $15,000 from the N.C. Arts Council for proposed work over a two-year period.
As the Charlotte Observer’s Dannye Romine Powell first reported Sunday, McCrory bypassed a route favored by his predecessors to consult and seek recommendations from the N.C. Arts Council, a state-run group under the state’s cultural resources department.
The arts council, which consists of board members appointed by the governor, sent out a statement Monday backing McCrory.
“While past appointments included a selection committee, it is not required as part of the selection process,” the statement from the council states. “It is the Governor’s appointment and the prerogative of his office to select the state’s Poet Laureate. The North Carolina Arts Council is looking forward to working with Ms. Macon in her term.”
Past poet laureates told the Observer while they would support Macon in her new role, that McCrory’s decision would hurt the state’s strong literary tradition.
Greensboro’s Fred Chappell, who was North Carolina’s poet laureate from 1997 to 2002, described McCrory’s appointment of Macon to the Observer as an “arbitrary seizure of power that’s liable to result in unfortunate circumstances.”
It’s unclear how McCrory came to select Macon, who also works for the N.C. Department of Heath and Human Services as a disability determination specialist.
Rick Martinez, a McCrory spokesman, said the governor generally asks for recommendations and input for appointments to boards and commissions. Martinez said he did not know how what happened in the poet laureate nomination.
McCrory was not required to consult the N.C. Arts Council, Martinez said.
“That’s the governor’s prerogative to make the appointment,” he said.