Friday, May 13, 2011

Roanoker List Ignores the Real Best Writers

Went by Curry Copy around noon today to get some holes drilled in my novel for binding and shipping off to some mythical potential agent and Mitzi Willingham mentioned that this blog had been mentioned in The Roanoker Magazine's annual "Best of Roanoke" issue. She brought out her copy and I took a look, discovering I won a had won a silver medal and was behind a blog about the weather at the local daily newspaper.

I rationalized that mine was considered the best among non-multi-million-dollar-company-supported blogs--with a huge marketing platform--and was satisfied that I'd done all I could, so I went looking to find out who the best writer in the region was. This one's always interesting because it's always wrong. Never once in all the years I've been following it has it been right about the best writer (and that includes last year when I won a Gold that I didn't deserve). Kurt Rheinheimer, editor of The Roanoker and a guy who could have won the award, but never has, and I discussed the imbalance in the selections last year and he promised to do something about it, like separate out the newspaper people whose high profile is most often far more significant than their writing.

The magazine certainly did that. In fact, it eliminated everybody but those working at the daily newspaper. The paper has its own category and its writers compete only against each other. The Roanoker even separated sports from everybody else at the paper and comics got its own spot.

My guess is that fewer than 10 percent of the people in this region who call themselves "professional writers" work at the daily paper in Roanoke. With the recent loss of two-time Pulizter Prize finalist Rex Bowman, it is easy to single out Beth Macy as the best there, but that's like singling out the best player for the Baltimore Orioles for the Major League award. Beth is a fine writer--regardless of genre--but she deserves better than to say she's the best at the paper. We already knew that.

What's left out here are people like the group from Hollins (Larsen, Dillard, Hankla, etc.); Virginia Tech's burgeoning master's writing program led by Ed Falco, Nikki Giovanni, and Lucinda Roy; and writers/teachers at Roanoke College (Melanie Almeder best among them) and Radford University (Bill Kovarik, Jim Minick and others). Smith Mountain Lake is a treasure trove of fine writing at the upper levels with Keith Ferrell and David Baldacci, among others; and the Roanoke Valley features novelist Sharyn McCrumb and sports biographer Roland Lazenby. Those are the most obvious candidates for any "Best Writer" list for this region and there are a number of others with strong accomplishment in our field.

What we get with so many of these numerous categories is exemplified by the choice of "sexiest" person in the area. That goes to the familiar and the easy pick, usually some TV news person who is not in the least sexy, but we've been over this well-worn ground a dozen times. I would suggest that Beth Macy belongs in the real group of the area's "sexiest" women because she's not only lovely of face, but also of spirit and she is mightily accomplished.

I'm peeing in the wind here and I'll admit we gotta take these award dealies for for what they are: low-end popularity contests. Not many people pay attention to writing and writers and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Blogs, though, that's a different matter. Blogs are important.


  1. I always fancied myself as "The Best Ryder in Roanoke". Take my Tomato and pepper catalog for 2011.

    That is some fancy, dancy writing. On a side note, my father-in-law used to hang out with the SML writers before he became ill and passed away a couple of years ago. Jack the SMLaker was a man full of stories. After he passed away, my wife and I compiled his stories and published his works through LuLu. Jim Morrison volunteered to write the forward. As I spent countless hours editing my father-in-law's work for publication, his writings began to grow inside me. Words are quite powerful that way.

  2. I have a copy of Jack's book and even though I've read it from cover to cover, I pick it up occasionally, read a story or two, smile, and remember Jack.

  3. @Sally: Jack would most likely tell you to get a life :) I miss him. He taught me more about being a man than I ever wanted to learn.