The sights, sounds and lore of Happy Valley are a part of North Carolina's rich literary heritage. Its best known contemporary representation may be in Asheville native Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (1997), which followed the path of Inman, a Civil War soldier who passed through the Valley on his journey home. The book remains controversial among locals for its depictions of the community as well as Inman himself, but it did earn Frazier a National Book Award for fiction, making him the only North Carolinian to hold that distinction.
Frontiersman Daniel Boone moved to Happy Valley with his parents in 1752 and continued to live here with his wife and six children until 1773, when the family settled in Kentucky. Hendersonville, N.C., native Robert Morgan captures Boone's fabled life in the biography Boone, which has been acclaimed for its storytelling, as well as its scholarship.
Born in Wilkes County in 1918, author and poet John Foster West is best known for his mentorship of many young writers studying at Appalachian State in Boone, where he served on the faculty for 22 years. West did a great deal of research into the Tom Dula legend, writing two unsentimental books about it: The Ballad of Tom Dula (1977) and Lift Up Your Head, Tom Dooley (1993).
Chapel Hill writer Manly Wade Wellman, who lived for a time in the tiny town of Pine Bluff, North Carolina also took an interest in the Tom Dula legend in Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina (1954).
Wilkes County is the birthplace of North Carolina's second Poet Laureate, James Larkin Pearson, who was born in a log cabin there in 1879. With little formal education, Pearson worked on the farm and did carpentering during his early boyhood, dropped out of school at age 16, and wrote poetry in his head as he went about his farm work until age 21. He held several jobs as a journalist in the state, returning to Wilkes County to begin publication of a satiric newspaper, The Fool-Killer, in 1910. His publications include Castle Gates, Early Harvest, Pearson's Poems, Plowed Ground, Selected Poems of James Larkin Pearson, and My Fingers and My Toes. His most famous poem, Fifty Acres, was published in the New York Times, which led to a popular 1937 collection by the same name. In 1953, Governor William B. Umstead appointed Pearson as the North Carolina Poet Laureate, a post he held until his death in 1981. In 2007, Pearson was honored with a state historical marker at the intersection of Routes 268 and 421.
The town of Lenoir is the birthplace of novelist Jan Karon, whose series of Mitford novels was based on life in nearby Blowing Rock. A longtime base for furniture manufacturing, Lenoir was also childhood home to writer Donald Seacrest, whose story collections, The Rat Becomes Light (1990) and White Trash, Red Velvet (1993) capture the town's factory life.
Discover North Carolina's Literary Heritage
Let the Literary Trails of North Carolina website be your guide to even more writers, legends and lore associated with Happy Valley and the surrounding region. With 18 day or half-day tours of the communities, historic sites and hangouts of more than 170 of our state's most notable writers, Literary Trails makes it easy for you to experience and explore not only Historic Happy Valley but also the literary heritage so deeply identified with our states' western mountains. A companion book is also available.