Carrie McCray Nickens (pictured above) is a name you may have heard associated with SCWA and wondered about. Here is her story and why we celebrate her as a major part of SCWA treasured history
When SCWA was created in 1990 as the South Carolina Writers Workshop, McCray Nickens, one of the founding members of the board, already was 77 years old. She had begun writing seriously at the age of 73 and had become a poet and memoirist. Her most famous piece of work, written at the age of 85, was “Freedom’s Child: The Life of a Confederate General’s Black Daughter” (1998), a first-person memoir about her mother. “I never thought of myself as a writer, only a social worker and teacher who loved to write,” she once said. “It took ‘Freedom’s Child’ to do that.”
McCray Nickens was one of South Carolina’s first celebrated Black, female writers. She expressed herself through poems and stories about life – about history, family, culture and the racial tensions and gender bias she experienced. She always was generous with her time and dedicated herself to helping beginning writers.
She once said, “Write for the joy of writing. Don’t be anxious about publishing. It will come. Accept constructive criticism from seasoned authors. It helped me develop my writing. Don’t let anyone discourage you.”*
This guidance shaped the mission of the South Carolina Writers Association – to provide a safe environment to help people become better writers.
McCray Nickens also was a member of the Board of Governors of the South Carolina Academy of Authors, and in 2009 she was inducted posthumously into the state literary hall of fame. SCWA and the S.C. Academy of Authors proudly co-sponsor the Carrie McCray Nickens Fellowship for Poetry.
McCray Nickens died on July 25, 2008, at the age of 94, only months after having married long-time friend John Nickens. Her papers are held by the special collection division at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.
I have read her poems and have a copy of “Freedom’s Child.” When I read her writing, I feel privileged to be associated with her, if only in some small way – carrying on McCray Nickens’s tradition, now 31 years after she helped start our association.
*Phebe Davidson, University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies. 08/10/2016