WILMINGTON — Azalea Festival organizers are adding a writing contest to this year’s activities, selecting local writer and radio commentator Nah Graham as a judge.
The contest is open to high school students in Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties. Students have 400 words – in essay or poetry – to address the prompt: “how does the North Carolina Azalea Festival contribute to or enhance our community of Wilmington, NC?”
To help judge the poetry division, organizers have enlisted Graham, a published novelist and WHQR contributor who also teaches southern literature at University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Graham was also a member of the 1958 Azalea Festival Queen’s Court.
“They reached out to me, I suppose because I’ve been teaching English since 1959. Everything from first grade to graduate school. And you know,” Graham added, “I was part of the festival, about a 111 some years ago, back in those Esther Williams days.” (Actress Williams was the Azalea Queen in 1958).
Graham admitted it can be difficult to explain what makes “good” poetry.
“Sometimes you want to go ahead and bang your head against a brick wall, trying to describe what good poetry does. It can be difficult. But I would say I’m looking for fresh voices.”
“What I’m really looking for is imagery,” Graham continued, “imagery and use of language. It doesn’t have to be obscure – oh, poetry can be so obscure – but it also shouldn’t be sing-songy or mundane. And of course it does have to touch you, it does have to touch your heart in some way.”
Graham added she hopes for a good turnout for the first year of the writing contest, saying “I think it will add another dimension to the festival. We can do the writing, we can do art, we can do theater. We can do it all.”