Author Robbin Gourley spent much of her adult life in New York City, “culling her way” through the Big Apple’s publishing world as a designer.
But if you leaf through the books she’s written and illustrated, you’ll see in her subject matter the inevitability of her move back to North Carolina, her home state.
“I write about the South,” says Gourley, who grew up in Elon, N.C., and graduated with an undergraduate degree (1974) and master’s (1978) from NC State’s College of Design. “All of my subjects have been about the South. There’s so many interesting characters from the South.”
Gourley, 63, recently moved back to North Carolina and now resides in Hillsborough. So it makes perfect sense that her latest book is a Tarheel-centric tale featuring one of the Old North State’s favorite sons.
Talkin’ Guitar: A Story of Young Doc Watson tells the story of the blind bluegrass legend with Gourley’s watercolors accompanying the text. Gourley says picking Watson was the next logical subject in a succession of Southern topics she’s tackled, including North Carolina cakes and family recipes she featured in a cookbook.
“Everyone in the South loves Doc Watson,” she says. “They want to see him, touch him. I thought the story of how he overcame his adversity would be an inspiring story for children.”
Writing about Watson and returning to North Carolina has satiated Gourley’s longing for the region she felt all those years away, emotions that were tied to the 100 acres of her family’s land she grew up on in Alamance County and the time she spent with her grandmother there.
And if she can tap into those same emotions in her readers, she says she has succeeded.
“The countryside was really important to me. Life-defining,” she says. “If I can show the warmth and beauty of the South in my books to anybody, I feel I’m doing something good.”