This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the South Carolina Writers' Workshop. The literary awards associated with our annual conference, is named in honor of one of the founding members, Carrie Allen McCray.
Born in 1913 in Lynchburg, VA, Carrie was seven when she moved with her family and settled in New Jersey. Her mother, Mary Rice Hayes Allen, was a well-known leader in the fight against segregation and Carrie grew up surrounded by the founders of the NAACP. Those early influences led her to earn a degree in social work and she spent most of her life as a social worker and a teacher. Her poems and essays were widely published during that time, and her pieces were written not only from her experiences as a woman facing the challenges of the 1950's, but also as a black woman whose hurdles were even higher. She thought of herself as an activist, never a writer.
Ms. McCray was in her seventies when she decided to take her writing seriously and began recording her mother's story. Carrie had this to say about writing:
". . . write for the joy of writing. Don't be anxious about publishing. That will come. Accept constructive criticism from seasoned authors. It helped me to develop my writing. Don't let anyone discourage you."
I believe it was in this spirit Ms. McCray envisioned the South Carolina Writers' Workshop, twenty years ago. Ms. McCray was an active member of the Columbia Chapter and thanked them and fellow SCWW founding member Scott Reagan in her book, Freedom's Child: The Life of a Confederate General's Black Daughter. The book about Mary Rice Hayes Allen was published in 1998, when Ms. McCray was eighty-five years old. In writing that story, she finally felt validated as a writer.
Carrie Allen McCray passed away just a few years ago and left both words of wisdom and an example.
1. Look to your own life for inspiration - for both nonfiction and fiction.
2. Look to your non-writing life for fodder for your writing life.
3. Become involved with a writing community.
4. It is never too late and we are never too old to become the writers of the stories we are meant to tell.
Submissions are now being accepted for the 2010 Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards. Complete guidelines and a cover sheet are available at our website at www.myscww.org