As one of North Carolina’s most famous novelists, Wilmington’s Clyde Edgerton, author of “Raney,” “Walking Across Egypt” and “The Bible Salesman,” is a welcome figure at libraries and bookstores across the state. But as of last month, he’s not welcome at his own kids’ school.
Edgerton filed a grievance about a popular Spanish Immersion Program alleging discrimation at Forest Hills Elementary. Edgerton’s children attend the program, but he and other white parents have argued that students of color haven’t had equal opportunity to enroll. The program used a “first come, first served” policy instead of an enrollment lottery. “It was very clear to me the deck was stacked,” he said Wednesday.
In May, New Hanover County Schools Supt. Tim Markley told Edgerton in a letter that he was banning him from all school system grounds. Markley says his decision stemmed from a parent’s concern that Edgerton had inappropriately obtained private information about her child. Edgerton had telephoned the parent and left a message indicating “the manner in which you obtained the information may have been potentially illegal,” Markley said in the letter.
Edgerton, who’s a 2016 inductee into the N.C. Literary Hall of Fame, says he and other parents had been contacting parents who they believed had signed up for the Spanish program but were denied admission. He has said phone numbers were collected through “word of mouth, asking questions, canvassing.” On Sunday, The Wilmington Star-News published “Overwhelmingly White,” an extensive report on the controversy.
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Since Edgerton and other parents began asking questions, the embattled principal at Forest Hills has submitted her resignation and the school system has announced it’s relocating the program so it can expand. It’s also switching to a lottery to choose students.
Edgerton, though happy with these changes, is still banned from school system grounds. He volunteers as a tutor at his children’s school. Markley says he’s waiting for Edgerton to answer his concerns. “If I get an explanation that makes sense, then we’re fine.”
Edgerton says the ban is unfortunate, but it’s a side issue. “The big issue is unfairness,” he said. “We’ve got a neighborhood school where certain segments of the neighborhood were first-come and first-served and other segments were last-come and not served.”
If history is any indicator, New Hanover’s superintendent may regret tangling with Clyde Edgerton.
In 1985, when Edgerton published his first book, “Raney,” he was teaching at Campbell University, a Baptist school in Buies Creek.
The book tells the story of the relationship between Raney, a Free Will Baptist from the fictional town of Bethel, N.C., and her new husband, Charles, a liberal Episcopalian from Atlanta. The comic novel received glowing reviews. But Campbell administrators chafed at Edgerton’s fun-poking portrayal of Free Will Baptists. And when the rest of the faculty got contracts and a raise for the next year, Edgerton’s were withheld.
Edgerton filed a grievance. Eventually, word got out. “Finally it became public and it became embarrassing” for the university, he says.
Edgerton ended up leaving to teach at another school and wrote other successful novels.
One, "Killer Diller, " is set at Ballard University, a fictional N.C. Baptist college run by twin brothers – President Ted Sears and Provost Ned Sears. Some people say the two bear more than a casual resemblance to the president and provost at Campbell who tangled with Edgerton.
Pam Kelley: 704 358-5271