photograph by David Stanley

CARL SANDBURG

Carl August Sandburg was a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, as well as a pioneering folk musician who often sang his poetry to the tune of a guitar. Born in Illinois in 1878, he spent the last 20 years of his life in Flat Rock with his wife, Lilian, who sought a milder climate to pursue her interest in goat breeding.

THOMAS WOLFE

Thomas Clayton Wolfe was born in Asheville, the youngest of eight children. His most famous novel, Look Homeward, Angel, published when he was only 28, is based on his formative years in Asheville, and features local residents, relatives, friends, and folks who frequented his mother’s boardinghouse.

Sandburg worked as a milk wagon driver, hotel porter, bricklayer, farm laborer, and coal heaver — jobs that prepared him well for his literary career as “the people’s poet.”
BEFORE THE BOOKS
Wolfe attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was editor of the campus newspaper, The Tar Heel. He was also an early member of the Carolina Playmakers, as he originally intended to become a playwright.
Older Flat Rock residents recall Sandburg as both a grumpy writer who yelled at folks for fishing in his pond, and a congenial extrovert who’d drop by for a drink and conversation and stay late into the evening.
ACCORDING TO NEIGHBORS
Because of the uproar from locals who recognized themselves portrayed in Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe stayed away from Asheville for almost eight years after publishing. When the book’s sequel came out, people were incensed that they hadn’t been included.
Sandburg won his third Pulitzer Prize, for poetry, while living in North Carolina. Today, visitors to the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site can walk in his footsteps on his 245-acre farm known as Connemara.
WHY WE LOVE HIM
Thomas Wolfe is our native son. No matter where he roamed — New York, the West Coast, and seven trips to Europe — he could never truly leave North Carolina.
In addition to petting descendants of Lilian’s goats, visitors to Connemara can see theatrical adaptations of Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories, American fairy tales that he wrote for his daughters.
SEE FOR YOURSELF
Wolfe devotees come from around the world to tour his mother’s old boardinghouse, now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site, and to visit his burial site in Riverside Cemetery.
Paul Bonesteel was raised in Flat Rock and directed the PBS feature film The Day Carl Sandburg Died.
THE EXPERTS
Tom Muir is the historic site manager at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site.

This story was published on

Susan Stafford Kelly was raised in Rutherfordton. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Carolina Classics, a collection of essays that have appeared in Our State, and five novels: How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. Susan has three grown children and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Sterling.

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