North Carolina Literary Review contains an interview Dr. Zack Vernon did with writer Allan Gurganus. In the interview, Gurganus and Zack discuss the political composition of North Carolina from Jesse Helms to Donald Trump, and we examine the role that reading and writing have played in past and present progressive political activism.
Here's Zack's introduction:
"Writers Empowering Readers: An Interview with Allan Gurganus," by Zackary Vernon
Allan Gurganus is well known in the state of North Carolina and beyond for his excellent works of fiction, including Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, White People, Plays Well with Others, and, most recently, Local Souls. But many are now recognizing Gurganus for his various forms of political activism. These, like his fiction, have often put him and his native state in the national news. Born in Rocky Mount, Gurganus left North Carolina for nearly three decades before returning and settling in Hillsborough for good in 1993. In this interview, Gurganus describes in harrowing detail his return to North Carolina from New York where he had experienced firsthand how the AIDS epidemic ravaged the gay community there, even witnessing the death of over 40 of his friends and lovers, many of whom he nursed.
Back in North Carolina following this loss, Gurganus set about fighting regressive politics in the state. In particular, he abhorred “Jesse Helms and his Baptist mafia,” and Gurganus eventually founded a group entitled “Writers Against Jesse Helms.” Citing Helms and Reagan’s systematic opposition to AIDS research, Gurganus asserts, “I had seen how right-wing politics—supported by my state’s Senator—let tens of thousands die unnecessarily. I knew if that couldn’t be corrected (if I couldn’t at least attempt to correct it), then I couldn’t keep living here. It would be intolerable, hypocritical.”
This activism continues today, and Gurganus—along with other great North Carolina writers, such as Randall Kenan, Jill McCorkle, Michael Malone, and Bland Simpson—has recently co-founded “Writers for a Progressive North Carolina.” This group opposes the Republican legislature in the state and, more broadly, Trump, whom Gurganus sees as a sort of latter day Jesse Helms, but somehow even worse; he calls Helms a “puppet show dress-rehearsal for the Trump regime.” Despite the almost overwhelming sense of despondency that many feel about Trump and his likeminded cronies in North Carolina, Gurganus is not without hope that the state and nation can one day rediscover the high road. And for Gurganus, literature has a significant role to play in empowering people and inspiring change.