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UNCP’s Dr. Shelby Stephenson wins poetry prize

July 24, 2008

“Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl,” by Dr. Shelby Stephenson was named winner of the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, according to an announcement by poet Allen Grossman, contest coordinator. 

Shelby StephensonDr. Stephenson is a professor in the English Department of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He is editor of Pembroke Magazine, a poet and musician.

“Family Matters” will be published in October, Dr. Stephenson said in a telephone interview from his family home near Benson, N.C.

About the winning entry, Grossman said it is “an intense and heart-breaking poetic narrative which, in its exploration of historical and personal materials, holds affinities to the work of Susan Howe and to James Agee’s classic ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.’  ‘Family Matters’ is a strenuous questioning – and exposure – of the fictions of ownership, whether of persons or places, graves or farms.”

Nearly four years in the making, ‘Family Matters’ is 60 pages, part poetry and part documentary on the slave trade. The topic required family and historical research into the life of July, the slave girl, as well as Dr. Stephenson’s ancestors, who bought and sold slaves in Johnston County.

“It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written,” he said. “It explores some of the stories about slavery.

“I’m honored to win this prestigious award,” Dr. Stephenson said.

Bellday Books is a North Carolina publishing house.