There’s one thing that author Megan Roberts ’10 MFA won’t put in her poems, short stories or novel. “I try not to include sweet tea,” she says. “We’ve had enough already. The South is changing.”
Roberts, who teaches composition at Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., depicts a more gothic South in her writing, exploring themes of race, family and murder. In her latest work, a chapbook available from Finishing Line Press called Matters of Record, she gives voice to a collection to real-life females who killed and were put to death for their crimes.
“This is about telling stories, and I’m not really judging,” she says, adding that she never set out to justify their acts. “I’m trying to show a lot of angles. There were some days I felt very sympathetic toward them, and there were days I was angry with them.”
The idea for Matters came to Roberts when she was talking to one of her old professors from East Carolina University. Somewhere he had encountered the story of Velma Margie Barfield, who was executed in North Carolina in 1984.
“The name itself is a great name,” Roberts says of the “Death Row Granny,” the first woman executed in the United States since 1962. Roberts researched a handful of Southern women who murdered and then blended her imagination in to provide narratives of their lives in the form of poems. She also includes voices of a jury, a husband who was murdered and some of the children those women left behind.
Roberts says writing something as abbreviated as a chapbook, which is usually 20-30 pages in length and smaller in physical size than a book, was exhausting because of the subject matter.
“That’s why I switch back and forth between genres,” she says, “because I don’t want to read about someone sitting in an electric chair everyday.”
An accomplished short story writer and poet, Roberts is now taking a shot at her first novel, Everything Is Only a Mile Away. It’s set in North Carolina and traces the lives of a mother and her two daughters. She says the story deviates from more uplifting material generally seen in popular portrayals of the South.
“There’s this darkness and this secrecy we have,” says Roberts, who credits Lee Smith as an influence. “To me that’s the stuff that keeps giving to storytelling. We kind of have a dark history.”