Watson Chronicle


Programs for P-12 Students

Virgo Students Participate in NEA Big Read

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Author Barbara Wright visited D.C. Virgo on November 3 to lead interactive discussions with fourth, fifth and sixth grade students about her book Crow, history, writing and the power of fiction. Crow is a work of historical fiction that explores the Wilmington, NC, events of 1898 through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy who is one generation removed from slavery.

The event was part of the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read: Cape Fear program, a collaborative year-long effort led by UNCW’s Office of the Arts and Randall Library to promote literacy in Wilmington and the broader Cape Fear region.

During the presentation, Virgo students had many questions for Mrs. Wright. They wanted to know where she’s from, where she got her inspiration for the book, if any parts of the story are true, and how long it took to write. In response, they learned that the author grew up in High Point, North Carolina but now lives in Denver; that her biracial grandson was her inspiration (“He was 12 years old when I started the book, and I wondered what things would have been like for him if he grew up in 1898”); that many of the events and places in the book are real, but the main characters are fictional; and the book took five years to write because it takes a lot of work to integrate fictional characters into a plotline, while staying true to the history.

“I did a lot of research before writing Crow,” Ms. Wright explained. “I wanted to learn about the events that took place in Wilmington in 1898, and to understand what people might have experienced. I looked at old photos and studied the details, and I visited locations like the bridge over the railway tunnel and tried to imagine what it would have looked like then. Then, I created a set of characters and began to write the story.”

One student wanted to know if you need to go to school to become a writer.

“Well, you can,” she said. “But really, anyone can be a writer. It just takes hard work. I set aside about three hours a day for writing. It is an intense process, without any interruptions. And, after the story was written, it took time to fact-check and re-write to get to a finished book where the parts all worked together and the story seemed real. The best way for anyone to become a writer is just to write.”

Crow was published in 2012. Students asked Ms. Wright if she would change anything if she was writing the book now.

“No,” she responded. “I re-read Crow just before the book tour this week and I was amazed at how current it seems.”

Following the presentation, each sixth grader received an autographed copy of the book.

The NEA Big Read Grant provided funding for the author visit, books for the Virgo sixth graders, companion titles for Virgo’s media center and the other community programming being offered. Cara Marsicano, Artist Services and Engagement Coordinator in UNCW’s Office of the Arts and Katie Crosby, Assistant Director of Corporate & Foundation Engagement wrote the grant and Melissa Raymer, Art and Education Librarian and her colleagues Randall Library coordinated book orders for the project, and helped to organize the author visit at Virgo.

“We were pleased to welcome Barbara Wright to D.C. Virgo, and would like to thank Melissa, Cara and the many people at The NEA Big Read: Cape Fear for arranging the author visit,” said Sabrina Hill-Black, principal at D.C. Virgo. “The book's setting provides students an opportunity to imagine Wilmington and the neighborhoods within our immediate school community during such a relevant and historical time in our city. This story may be the beginning of their personal inquiries and searches for answers about history, and for that, we are grateful.”

About NEA Big Read: Cape Fear 

The Cape Fear region is one of 62 communities nationwide participating in the NEA Big Read, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

The NEA Big Read: Cape Fear is presented in partnership with UNCW Office of the Arts, UNCW Randall Library, Arts Council of Wilmington & New Hanover County, Brunswick Arts Council, Brunswick County Library, Cameron Art Museum, Cape Fear Community College, Cape Fear Literacy Council, Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy, Good Shepherd Center, New Hanover County Public Library, New Hanover County Schools, Pender County Library, and the Wilmington African American Community Remembrance Project, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

To see the full calendar of related events, visit the UNCW Office of the Arts NEA Big Read: Cape Fear website.