Member Spotlight: Henry McCarthy

Henry McCarthy says he has enjoyed watching the evolution of the WSWriters. He remembers first meeting with a small, but enthusiastic, group at a bagel shop on Stratford Road before moving to Billy Bob’s Diner. The encouragement he encountered in those early days, he says, remains today. He observed it recently when he read at an Open Mic night at the Milton Rhodes Center, and he continues to appreciate the opportunity to share his writing with a non-judgmental audience.

Often his poems take the form of notes to himself. You will find them simply filed on his phone. Like Jack Kerouac or Thomas Wolfe, his near stream of consciousness style captures the immediacy of events and the authenticity of emotions. For Henry McCarthy, writing is “talking on paper.”

And while both writing and talking are things he does well, listening must also be added to that list. That is why he is such a welcoming host of his radio show, Poets and Writers on the NPR-affiliate station WEHC, 90.7, out of Emory, Virginia. Twice a week, Henry engages in conversations with authors, such as Pat Conroy, David Baldacci, Lee Smith, Robert Morgan, Naomi Nye, and our own WSWriters Sam Barbee, Steve Lindahl, Carol Roan, and Steve Mitchell, 125 people to date. You can listen to archives of the show at The interviews are also preserved in the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC Chapel Hill. His radio program not only introduces audiences to the poetry of a wide variety of authors, but also their philosophies of writing.

As with most writers, McCarthy’s own inspiration comes from his roots and experiences. His father was a “street kid” from Boston and his mother from the hills of western North Carolina. Born in Johnson City, Tennessee, Henry later moved to Winston Salem, where he played baseball in high school and followed “the best advice [he] ever received” to study drama. With $65 borrowed from the Winston Salem Foundation, Henry attended Eastern Tennessee University to earn a Theatre degree. He continued his education, earning graduate degrees at the University of Kentucky (Master’s) and University of Tennessee (Ph.D). For more than 30 years, he was an Assistant Dean in the College of Education at Appalachian State. He is also a world traveler, a guest actor at UNC School of the Arts, and has twice received the Order of the Long Leaf for his service to the state. The title poem from his latest collection of poetry, Never Read a How-To Book, beautifully expresses his own philosophy.

Never Read a How-To Book Between Whitman’s Leaves of Grass Great Poets of the World and Charles Bukowski’s Notes of a Dirty Old Man were How to Read Poetry How to Write Poetry and How to Present Poetry Obscene titles Totally obscene titles I started to grab the books and Stomp on the covers However that was not acceptable for My age and station in life May I tell you something May I tell you something Never never read a how to book Never Go deep into your soul Cry inside your heart Feel the rhythm of your Joy and anger Then hurl your message to that Friend or stranger Who is much lonelier than You and who has Read far too many How to books


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