In early June I traveled to Southern Pines, North Carolina, to be a writer in residence at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities. This handsome estate was built around 1900 by steel and railroad magnate James Boyd. His grandson, also named James, updated the house in the 1920s; there he and his wife entertained literary friends such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Sherwood Anderson.
Offered a choice of bedrooms, I settled in the large, sunny Thomas Wolfe Room. I set my laptop on the writing desk by the window, with a framed photo of Wolfe watching over me. I silently apologized to him for never managing to wade through any of his ginormous books (his first draft of Look Homeward Angel filled a trunk).
I met the other writer in residence, Maggie, a warm, easy-smiling woman who was working on a fantasy novel. She’d filled the fridge in the communal kitchen with healthy stuff like hummus and fresh spinach. I’d also brought my food supply: a party-size bag of peanut m&m’s.
As I explored the grounds, I discovered a stable a short walk away. Alex, the caretaker for Weymouth, explained that it originally housed the Boyds’ horses. Now it belongs to a fellow who trains driving horses. The stable’s residents include three Friesians, a palomino Saddlebred, a German sport pony, two Morgans, and a Fjord.
The horse theme recurred when I poked around the mansion (one perk of being a writer in residence is the privilege of wandering freely through the house). I found a room devoted to the history of local hunt riding, a pastime that endures to this day in horsey Southern Pines. Some photos showed impossible-seeming feats.
I spent a couple of afternoons walking around downtown Southern Pines, a collection of charming stores that sell nonessentials like retro chintz aprons and hand-painted watering cans. Downtown does boast a large tack shop, which has a distinctly high-end, hunt-focused flavor. I didn’t see any of the accoutrements for natural horsemanship there.
Oh, yes, I did some writing as well. My output was anything but Wolfeian—you could put what I wrote in a large manila envelope. No trunks needed. Still, I made good progress on a first-person piece I’m writing . Here’s a small sample:
My true muse at Weymouth was F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose name graces a study in the second-floor writers’ quarters.
His life may have been a disaster, but oh, boy, he could write. I can only aspire to the kind of prose poetry that Fitzgerald pulled off.
After four contrapuntal days of relaxing and writing, I headed home to Greensboro feeling more like a real-life writer. Maybe it was the sign posted in the stairwell at Weymouth that made me feel genuine. Maybe I need a sign like that next to the dining room table where I write at home.