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Maya Angelou

April 4, 1928 - May 28, 2014

Sing, Bird, Sing.

famous-carolina-faces-maya-angelouMaya Angelou, born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, was raised in St. Louis and in Stamps, Arkansas. Hers was a difficult life and she became a single mother at an early age.

And then,  through perseverance, force of will and immeasurable talent, she won a scholarship to study in San Francisco, toured Europe in a production of Porgy and Bess, studied dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey, and moved to New York, then Egypt, and later, Ghana.

She was a prolific writer of poetry; her volume Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie(1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

How can the Carolinas claim her as one of our own? In 1991, she became the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and lived happily in this appealing Southern town.

She was chosen by President Bill Clinton to recite her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” during his inauguration in 1993. You can listen and watch on YouTube, and be as enthralled now as so many years ago.

President Barack Obama presented her with the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Oprah Winfrey speaks passionately about her genius, and young people are now being introduced to her written words.

She was called a global renaissance woman, and with good reason. Read more about Dr. Angelou and enjoy videos spanning her career at  Maya Angelou and Still I Rise, is the first feature length documentary about this remarkable poet, writer, actress and activist and was released in October 2016.

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Maya Angelou


Alice Childress

October 12, 1912 - August 14, 1994

famous-carolina-faces-alice-childressThis remarkable actress and writer was born in Charleston, to a working class family. At a young age, when her parents divorced, the girl was sent to live with her maternal grandmother in Harlem. However, she never left the south behind and frequently drew on her background in the segregated south for her writing.

It’s been said that her grandmother encouraged Alice’s creative interests, including reading, writing, and soon, the theater. Throughout the 1940s, she participated in American Negro Theater productions, gaining quite a reputation as a talented actress. She became involved in social issues. And her writing career gained recognition as well.

Florence, her first play, told of a black mother refusing to support her daughter’s interest in acting. The play was critically well received. She also wrote Trouble in Mind, which won an Obie Award in 1956 as best off-Broadway play.

She married, then divorced Alvin Childress, the actor who played Amos on TV’s “Amos ‘n Andy Show.” The couple had a daughter, Jean.

And then she wrote A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich, a novel which targeted young adults. It was controversial with its discussion of drugs, sex and parental expectations.

Her legacy grew and her fame as well. Eventually, she wrote eight plays, four novels, and a number of papers. Her 1979 novel, A Short Walk, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Together with her second husband, composer Nathan Woodward, she wrote several musical plays, including Sea Island Song and Young Martin Luther King.

One of her more controversial plays, written in 1966, was Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White, about the illegal marriage of a white baker and black seamstress in South Carolina during World War 1.

She was noted for her compassionate – yet realistic – depictions of both blacks and whites, and she was awarded the Paul Robeson Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts. In her later years, she lectured at Radcliffe and Fisk Universities, and she wrote until her death.

James Dickey

February 2, 1923 - January 19, 1997

Poet, Educator

famous-carolina-faces-james-dickeyTwo-Fisted Poet:  James Dickey was born in Atlanta, but attended Clemson University for a year and lived for many years in South Carolina. He became one of our own. At Clemson he played football and began to demonstrate what The New York Times called “a fondness for risk and action, taking up canoeing, archery, weight lifting and other sports.” Early in his career, he wrote advertising copy to some acclaim; however, after the publication of his first book, Into the Stone, and Other Poems (1960), he decided to pursue poetry full-time. In 1965, his book, Buckdancer’s Choice won the National Book Award, and the literary world began to take notice.

And then came Deliverance. If you’re of a certain age, you remember the horror of that trip down the Chattooga River, which separates Georgia and South Carolina. If not, go rent the movie, and look for Mr. Dickey in a cameo role, playing the sheriff, near the end of the film.

The book, according to the author, was the result of many incidents which happened to him during canoe and bow-hunting trips in the North Georgia Mountains. Some critics made comparisons to Ernest Hemingway, while others likened him to Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness.

After joining the Army Air Corps and flying more than 100 missions in the Pacific, he returned to school, majoring in English at Vanderbilt University, graduating magna cum laude. A year spent in Italy and a variety of positions in a number of schools preceded his decision to settle in Columbia, at the University of South Carolina, where he was Poet in Residence and known for hard-drinking and attracting women. He taught there from 1968 until 1997, and died just six days after teaching his last class. His funeral was held on the Horseshoe of the University and attracted a number of glitterati, including Pat Conroy, who spoke about him with much admiration.


Billy Graham

November 7, 1918- February 21, 2018

Evangelist to the World

William Graham, one of the most famous people in the world, was raised on a dairy farm near Charlotte, NC.  During his lifetime, he counseled presidents and politicians, entertainers and artists.

For many of us raised in the South, a Billy Graham crusade was must-watch television, even if our families did not always agree with everything he said.  He was universally respected for his sincerity and his beliefs, as well as his honorable approach to life.

Many believe he was an important catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement.  In 1953, at one of his crusades, Mr. Graham tore down ropes that had been placed to separate the audience into racial sections.  It is said that he told a white audience this:  “We have been proud and thought we were better than any other race, any other people.  Ladies and gentlemen.  We are going to stumble into hell because of our pride.”

He backed up his words by allowing African-American ministers to serve as members of his New York crusade’s executive committee.  He became close friends with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (although the two had significant differences, especially over the Vietnam War, at certain times during their decade-long friendship.)  In 1963, Mr. Graham posted bail for Dr. King to be released from jail during civil rights protests in Birmingham.

Reverend Graham refused to preach in segregated churches, and refused to visit South Africa until its government allowed integrated seating for audiences.

In his later years, he was invited to participate in services following 9/11 as well as the Oklahoma City bombing.

He wrote 32 books, including his autobiography, Just as I am, which was a best-seller.  The Gallup organization lists him as one of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World,” and he has appeared on the covers of Time, Newsweek, Life, U.S. News and World Report, and many others.

The Billy Graham Library, in Charlotte, is very popular and he was buried there, beside his late wife, Ruth.  He has five children, 19 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren, and spent his later years living in his beloved mountains of North Carolina.



O. Henry

September 11, 1862 - June 5, 1910

The Gift of O. Henry: Each year, as the holidays draw near, we revisit classic holiday tales that have been treasured by generations. One such favorite is The Gift of the Magi, a short story by North Carolina native O. Henry (born William Sydney Porter).

Today, in O. Henry’s hometown of Greensboro, you can even stay in the O. Henry Hotel to enjoy the gracious hospitality of a by-gone era. Perhaps it will inspire you to pen your own story, too.

Cassandra King

Born February 18, 1944

famous-carolina-faces-cassandra-king-conroy-credit-Tamara-ReynoldsThe best-selling novelist and I have something in common.  We both have maintained a lifelong appreciation of Daphne DeMaurier’s classic romantic novel, Rebecca. I read it long ago, but have never forgotten the story and the late evenings I spent devouring every word, while hoping for the best for the terrified heroine.

Recently, I discovered that Ms. King has written a remarkable story that pays homage to the classic – set in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. The inspiration for the plot was drawn from a coincidental – or not – summer trip to a beautiful old home in Highlands, accompanied by a well-worn copy of Rebecca. Moonrise is sitting on my kindle, calling my name right now.

Cassandra King was born in what she calls ‘Lower Alabama,’ but currently makes her home in Beaufort, SC, in a home she shared with her late husband, novelist Pat Conroy.  (She met him when he wrote a blurb for one of her earlier novels.)

This author of five novels has been called “the Queen of Southern Storytelling” and with good reason.  The stories feature strong Southern women, in plots familiar to all of us who call the South our home. Moonrise, Making Waves, The Sunday Wife, Queen of Broken Hearts, and The Same Sweet Girls all have their roots firmly planted in the Southern woman’s experience of life.  If you came of age in the South, you will feel quite at home.  If not, you’ll still be fascinated.

For me, the back stories behind her novels are required reading.  Her real life of accidents and occurrences, suppositions and suggestions, is transformed into fiction, with a Southern drawl.

Currently, when she isn’t on book-signing tours for Moonrise, Cassandra King Conroy is helping in the creation of the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC, which “will cultivate a passionate and inclusive reading and writing community in honor of the beloved Beaufort author.” In the introduction to the new collection of pieces by Conroy, A Lowcountry Heart, King wrote: Pat collected stories like others might collect rare stamps, or a library of illustrious music. Hearing a good story filled him with great excitement.” These two were clearly made for each other.


Photo: Mic Smith Photography

Mary Alice Monroe

Born May 25, 1960

She’s a best-selling author who lives outside Charleston, SC, and her books are loved by many.  What makes her a rock star among our colleagues is her absolute commitment to the environment.  An active conservationist, she serves on the boards of the South Carolina Aquarium (a future Carolina Adventure), The Leatherback Trust and Charleston Literacy Volunteers.
The recipient of many awards, one that caught our collective eye was for The Butterfly’s Daughter, which won the International Book Award for Green Fiction.

Recently interviewed on Public Radio by Walter Edgar, she joined Naturalist Rudy Mancke to discuss our fragile world and what can be done to ensure and improve its health – for all creatures, including humans.  

Her website includes a comprehensive list of links for Conservation information.  Go there and learn what’s being done and how you can help migrating shorebirds, sea turtles, dolphins, butterflies, birds of prey, and many more.

One of her great joys is hearing from readers who have not only enjoyed her novels, but learned something about nature in the process.

Here, in the middle of our glorious Carolina summer, consider dipping a toe into her wonderful waters that include family beach houses, the Atlantic ocean, and our natural world.

mary-alice-monroe-famous-face-bookHer newest book, Beach House for Rent promises another great read. New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs says, “Reading this novel feels like a long, luxurious trip to the beach. 

Mary Alice Monroe writes gorgeously, with authority and tenderness, about the natural world and its power to inspire, transport, and to heal.”

An earlier novel, The Beach House, will be adapted into a Hallmark Channel original movie starring three-time Golden Globe nominee Andie McDowell (and Carolina Famous Face).

Visit her official website:
More about Charleston.

Peggy Parish

July 14, 1927 - November 19, 1988

famous-carolina-faces-peggy-parishManning, South Carolina native Peggy Parish graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in English and taught for many years in Oklahoma, Kentucky and New York City.  She began to write stories for children, as well as review children’s books and lead training workshops for teachers.  She had an instinctive gift and as her books were published, she began to receive letters of appreciation from children and their parents.

Her philosophy was that children will not read books in which they have no interest, and a love of reading must be in place by the time a child has finished third grade.  She wrote a variety of children’s books, but by far the most beloved was the series of Amelia Bedelia books, which included Amelia Bedelia Helps Out, and Amelia Bedelia, The Surprise Shower, among many others.

For those who never spent time with her quirky character, Amelia Bedelia worked as a housekeeper, where her literal take on instructions caused havoc in the home.  (She dusts the furniture with dusting powder, for example, and sketches the drapes when asked to “draw” them.)  In Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia, the opportunities to confuse baseball terminology are many.  (Think about running home, or stealing a base – taken literally.)  What inevitably saved the day were the housekeeper’s amazing baking skills.  Despite the mix-ups and confusion, her desserts were so delicious that employers simply could not let her go.  Hundreds of thousands of children are glad she stayed on.

Peggy Parish eventually left New York and returned home to the small town of Manning, where she died in 1988, after suffering an aneurism.  Her nephew, Herman Parish, has continued the Amelia Bedelia series, to the delight of children everywhere.

Amelia Bedelia is frequently cited as one of the reasons Wikipedia should be carefully checked before quoting.  According to a number of sources, several college students ended an evening of recreational drug use by adding made-up “facts” to listings in Wikipedia.  They focused on obscure authors, and among their antics, advised readers that Amelia Bedelia was based upon Ms. Parish’s encounters with a maid during time spent living in Cameroon, Africa.  There was no time spent in Africa, and no maid.  However, Internet browsers can still find this curious note in a variety of Internet listings, picked up as “fact.”

Kathleen Parker

Born 1951

Nationally Syndicated Columnist

Kathleen-Parker-book-save-the-malesHer southern roots run deep and she doesn’t try to hide them.  Although Ms. Parker was born and raised in Winter Haven Florida, her mother (who died when she was three) was from Barnwell County, in South Carolina from a family that dates back to the late 1600s in residing there.  She spent some summers in Columbia, SC, with her mother’s family, got her start when she was hired to write for the historic, much-loved and now-defunct Charleston Evening Post, and lives in the small, historic, horse-loving town of Camden, SC with her husband, attorney Woody Cleveland.  They have three sons.

The Chicago Tribune says her “clear, descriptive, lively writing underscores her common-sense approach to life’s challenges.”  She describes herself as “mostly right of center” yet has been quoted in the Huffington Post more than once.

In this day of all or nothing – especially in this day of all or nothing – Kathleen Parker defies neat little pigeonholing.  She speaks her mind with wit and knowledge, taking aim at those who, in her view of the sorry state of affairs in our politically polarized country, deserve a calling out, or at least a heads-up.

She holds a master’s degree in Spanish from Florida State University, and traveled and studied abroad. In 1987, she began her column for the Orlando Sentinel. In 1993, she won the H.L. Menchen Writing Award   Later, she joined the Washington Post Writers Group.  The Week magazine named her as one of the country’s top five columnists in 2004 and 2005. In 2010, she received the Pulitzer Prize for her political commentary.

She serves as writer in residence at the Buckley School of Public Speaking, is on USA Today’s Board of Contributors, and is syndicated in more than 400 publications. Ms. Parker is author of Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care.  And she’s funny.  In her own words, “My ambitious goal is to try to inject a little sanity into a world gone barking mad.”


Eugene Robinson

Born 1954

Journalist, Author, Commentator, Pulitzer Prize recipient

A native of the small town of Orangeburg, South Carolina, Eugene Robinson broke the color barrier early, becoming one of the first black students to graduate from Orangeburg Wilkinson High School.  He has spent his career providing thoughtful commentary on a variety of subjects including politics and culture and has been recognized for his work.

Mr. Robinson received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign which focused on the election of the first African American president.  He’s also written three books:

• From Coal to Cream: A Black Man’s Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race;

• Last Dance in Havana:  The final Days of Fidel and the Start of the New Cuban Revolution;

• Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America

A graduate of the University of Michigan, he began his career at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was one of two reporters assigned to cover the trial of Patty Hearst.  He joined The Washington Post in 1980 and held a number of positions there before beginning his Op-Ed column in 2005.

He appears frequently on Meet the Press, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Morning Joe, The Rachel Maddow Show and a number of others.  

He is married to Avis C. Robinson, who is President and CEO of Washington Metropolitan Scholars, a non-profit which provides scholarships to support African American students successfully complete their undergraduate studies.  The Robinsons have two children and live in Arlington, Virginia.

Eugene Robinson photo by Gage Skidmore.

Amy Sedaris

Born March 29, 1961

famous-carolina-faces-amy-sedarisShe’s an author, actress and comedian, perhaps most well known for playing Jerri Blank in the Comedy Central television series, “Strangers with Candy.” The program, which debuted in 1999, was a collaborative project for Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello. Amy Sedaris is sharp, funny and very prolific.

The Carolinas can claim the Sedaris family because, although Amy was born in New York, she grew up in Raleigh, NC, with five siblings (including older brother David, a star in his own right). Her father is of Greek heritage and she was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Ms. Sedaris is a former member of Second City and Annoyance Theatre, both comedy troupes located in Chicago. In 1999 she first portrayed Jerri Blank, a character which gained a huge following. Eventually, “Strangers with Candy” morphed from television and was made into a film.

A frequent talk show visitor, she never fails to use her quick wit and humor, and there is very little she is unwilling to discuss. (Example: a monologue on feminine hygiene during an appearance on the “Chelsea Lately” television show.)

In 2009, Ms. Sedaris narrated the PBS Special, “Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America,” a six-hour documentary on comedy (and comedians).

She’s played an accomplished lifestyle guru, sex-crazed sister, the Mormon wife of a Utah Senator, and so many more characters. In a more G-rated role, she voiced Cinderella in “Shrek the Third.” She’s co-authored several plays and written several books, among them I Like Your Hospitality Under the Influence (which stayed on the New York Times’ bestseller list for more than 12 weeks), and the more recent Crafts for Poor People.

She resides in New York City and her private life is … very private.

Nicholas Sparks

Born December 31, 1965

famous-carolina-faces-nicholas-sparkHe’s one of the world’s most beloved storytellers and although Nebraska is his birthplace, he’s called New Bern, North Carolina home for about 20 years. Many fans discovered the novelist when he published The Notebook, one of his best-known stories. His published work includes 18 novels, as well as a non-fiction memoir, Three Weeks With My Brother, published in 2004.

The Choice, is his eleventh film adaption and is in theaters now. Set in the picturesque Inner Banks coastal town of Beaufort, NC, it is the setting for a romantic story that parallels but doesn’t copy, earlier novels.

According to Sparks: “Again, as with all my novels, one of the questions I must first answer when attempting to conceive of a story is the “obstacle” that keeps the characters apart. The obstacle creates the tension and drama inherent in the story; in many ways, it’s the glue that holds the entire story together.”

Every Nicholas Sparks fan has a favorite story that speaks to them. The Notebook is first on most lists, however for me, Nights in Rodanthe perfectly conveys the feel of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, as it tells the love story of Adrienne and Paul.

The Choice is the first independent feature from Nicholas Sparks Productions and stars Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer. You may not know this about Nicholas Sparks:

• He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where he is a major contributor to the Creative Writing Program (MFA).

• A former full scholarship athlete (he continues to hold a track and field record at his alma mater), he has coached at his local public high school. (In 2009, the team he coached at New Bern High School set a World Junior Indoor Record in the 4 x 400 meter.)

• Between the Nicholas Sparks Foundation and personal gifts from the Sparks family, more than $15 million has been distributed to a variety of charitable causes, scholarship programs, and projects. He and his ex-wife, Cathy, have five children.

Mickey Spillane

March 9, 1918 - July 17, 2006

famous-carolina-faces-Mickey-SpillaneJames Morrison ‘Mickey’ Spillane, the famous author of crime novels, was born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey, but after traveling extensively and living in a variety of places, he chose Murrells Inlet, SC, as his hometown for more than 50 years.

The story goes that while working as a flying instructor during World War II 1st Lt. Spillane flew over Murrells inlet and vowed to live there, someday.

It happened about ten years later, because he never let go of that tiny fishing village.  Today, Murrells Inlet maintains a good bit of its character, while absorbing the vacationers and golfers who have fallen in love with the area as he did so many years ago.

The tough-guy author had become famous by the time he made the move.  He’d acquired money and a reputation for straight talk. It began with his first novel I, the Jury, published in 1947 and written in 19 days.  The book sold more than six million copies, and started the novelist on his life’s path of writing books that openly included sex, violence and often featured the detective, Mike Hammer, who had his own swagger, and revenge-tinged outlook on life. The writer published more than 30 novels, plus screen plays and short stories and once famously said, “Violence will outsell sex every time.”  He chose to include both – a financially rewarding decision.

His personal life included an early stint as a trampoline artist with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and after he found fame, he worked as an occasional actor. He was famous for his hatred of communism, a position which endeared him to John Wayne (who, it is said, bought him a Cadillac in support of his political views).  In Murrells Inlet, he was considered a good friend of the community and enthusiastic advocate of the Grand Strand.  Married three times, his last wife, Jane Johnson, survived him.

At the end, much of the early criticism of his work had turned to praise and he died still loving the town that had caught his eye from the cockpit of an old plane, 60+ years earlier.

“If you're a singer, you lose your voice. A baseball player loses his arm. A writer gets more knowledge, and if he's good, the older he gets, the better he writes.”  'Mickey' Spillane

Thomas Wolfe

October 3, 1900 - September 15, 1938

Can You Go Home Again? 

famous-carolina-faces-thomas-wolfeThomas Wolfe, 1900-1938, arguably considered North Carolina’s most famous writer, was born in 1900, in Asheville, the son of a stonecutter and his third wife. He grew up in his mother’s downtown boarding house, and was identified as an exceptional student as well as a bit of a misfit from his early school years.

He entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he was 15. He graduated, went to Harvard, and then moved on to New York where he took a job teaching at New York University. (We told you he was smart.) During a trip to Europe in 1926, he began writing about his memories of Asheville, which did not endear him to the locals, but did offer more than ample fodder for what would become Look Homeward Angel: A Story of the Buried Life.

It is said that William Faulkner considered him one of the finest writers of his time and is famously quoted as saying the author, "put all the experience of the human heart on the head of a pin."

Bigger than life – physically and emotionally, he wrote from the heart and soul and writers everywhere have been profoundly influenced by his work.

You Can’t Go Home Again is a novel published posthumously in 1940 and was pulled from his huge unpublished manuscript which he had titled, The October Fair. That title has become a part of American speech and is used frequently to explain the impossibility of returning to the place of childhood and youthful memories. At some level, we all understand that you really can’t go home again.

Thomas Wolfe never married, but enjoyed an intense affair with an older woman, Aline Bernstein. He wrote poems, plays, short stories and novels. He died in 1938 of military tuberculosis of the brain.