The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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Sea story
By Beth English '07 MALS, UNCG magazine editor
Photography by Chris English, photography editor

MFA creative writing professor Michael Parker talks about “The Watery Part of the World,” darkness and why journalism wasn't for him

At Manteo Booksellers, Michael Parker is greeted like an old friend — which he is.

“Steve, how are you my friend? How've you been? Thanks for having me.”

He shakes hands with store owner Steve Brumfield and Jim Fineman, a potter whose works are displayed in the store.

At the end of the book signing, Michael Parker leaves Manteo Booksellers with a few purchases. At the end of the book signing, Michael Parker leaves Manteo Booksellers with a few purchases.

More than 20 years ago, Parker spent two years as a visiting artist with the College of Albemarle in Elizabeth City. He taught a bit at the satellite campus in Manteo, just across the way from the book store.

He spent several hours prowling the shelves of the store, which hasn't changed much. There are still three separate rooms of books, with cozy armchairs for curling up in. A gray cat that wanders in and out at will. One room is dedicated to fiction while the main area is dedicated to works of regional interest. Parker's book appears in both areas.

He sets up at a small table piled with hardcover copies of his fifth novel, “The Watery Part of the World.” Manteo is part of a book tour that's taken him to Seattle, Portland, Austin and then closer to home with Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville, Durham and now Manteo and Duck.

“If they (Algonquin) send me, I'll go,” he says. “But it's awful nice to have an ocean outside your door.”

With a title like “The Watery Part of the World” it's easy to understand the allure of the ocean for him. The book itself takes place on the Outer Banks, not too far from Manteo. Parker grew up in Clinton, about an hour away from the coast.

Parker talks with store owner Steve Brumfield during a quiet moment. Parker talks with store owner Steve Brumfield during a quiet moment.

After he settles in, Parker is approached by a woman from Virginia Beach. She came because she read an article about Parker's new novel in the newspaper. “What made you decide to write this?” she asks as he opens the book to sign.

He looks up and tells the story he's repeated numerous times. How, when his now-adult daughter was young, he would read to her from “Myths and Legends of North Carolina” and how the disappearance of Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of former vice president Aaron Burr, off the coast of North Carolina intrigued him.

“I didn't care what happened to her,” he says and then corrects himself, “Well, I do care but …”

A disappearance is perfect for a fiction writer, he explains. He can change her story in any way that suits the novel.

The book also shifts in time from Theodosia's disappearance in the early 1800s to the last three inhabitants of Portsmouth Island, who left in the early 1970s. Those stories, woven together, tell of the power of place, and what people are willing to give up or not for love. It's peopled with characters who endure hardship — both from the external ruggedness of island life with its hurricanes and unrelenting mosquitoes as well as hardships laid upon them by others or by themselves.

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The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
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Last updated: Tuesday, 04 October 2011
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