Professor Emeritus of English Tony Abbott is one of six outstanding North Carolina residents selected to receive the state's highest civilian honor this year. Governor Pat McCrory will present the North Carolina Award to the recipients Thursday evening, Nov. 12, at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center in Durham.
In addition to Abbott, the honorees are Anthony Atala of Winston-Salem (Science), Senator James T. Broyhill of Winston-Salem (Public Service), A. Everette James Jr., of Chapel Hill (Fine Arts), Howard N. Lee of Chapel Hill (Public Service) and Patricia McBride of Charlotte (Fine Arts).
Created by the General Assembly, the North Carolina Awards have been presented annually since 1964. The award recognizes significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine arts, literature, public service and science.
Abbott is a native of San Francisco, California, who received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and his doctorate from Harvard University in 1962. His teaching career at Davidson began in 1964 and concluded officially with his retirement in 2001, and unofficially in 2006 when he last taught a section of humanities. His major fields of interest are modern drama, creative writing, and literature and religion.
Abbott was honored for his teaching during his long tenure at Davidson with the college's Thomas Jefferson Award in 1969 and the Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award in 1997.
In addition to mentoring Davidson students, he has dedicated himself to the community of writers in the Tar Heel state by presenting frequent readings of his work, attending readings of other writers and serving leadership roles with writers' organizations.
Abbott is past president of the Charlotte Writers Club and the North Carolina Writers Network, and also past chair of the North Carolina Writers Conference. He has won the Thomas H. McDill Award of the North Carolina Poetry Society three times. In 1996 he was honored by St. Andrews College with the Sam Ragan Award for his writing and his service to the literary community of North Carolina.
Abbott also has served regularly as a Sunday School teacher at Davidson College Presbyterian Church. With the late Professor Daniel Rhodes of the Department of Religion he developed a course in "American Literature and Religious Thought." After Rhodes' retirement, Abbott developed his own course, "Three Contemporary American Prophets: Flannery O'Connor, Frederick Buechner and Walker Percy." He has lectured widely on these three authors to both church and secular groups in North and South Carolina.
Abbott was instrumental in development of creative writing as an academic focus at Davidson. A scholar of George Bernard Shaw and William Butler Yeats, Abbott underwent a transformation after the unexpected death of his young daughter. He began writing poetry as an outlet to help heal his grief. His writing resulted in the title poem of his first book of verse, The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
He has published steadily since then. His volumes of poetry include If Words Could Save Us, A Small Thing Like a Breath, The Search for Wonder in the Cradle of the World, The Man Who, and his "greatest hits" volume of 2009, New and Selected Poems.
Abbott's latest work, published in 2014, is The Angel Dialogues, a suite of poems centered upon a cynical poet and an iconoclastic angel. The book showcases his ability to take on deep and emotional subjects, expressed in words that everyone can understand.
He also has written two novels. Leaving Maggie Hope won the 2003 Novello Literary Award, and was followed in 2007 by a sequel titled The Three Great Secret Things.
The North Carolina Awards are administered by the state's Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. No state monies are used for the Nov. 12 awards event. Tickets are available online. For information, call 919-807-7388 or 919-807-7256.