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Poetry Collection Brings Executed Women to Life

In last meals and lost childhoods, CHASS alum Megan Roberts reveals the haunting stories behind the crimes of 16 women executed in the United States. “Matters of Record” is a collection of poems by Roberts, who earned her MFA in Creative Writing from NC State in 2010.

The book officially publishes in July, but Roberts’ former teachers are already praising it. “This chapbook gives voice to women executed for their crimes,” says New York Times bestselling author and NC State Creative Writing faculty member Jill McCorkle. “And then, with the same masterful skill, Megan gives voice to victim, jury, system. As a whole, it stands as a chorus of life and death.”

Poet and faculty member Dorianne Laux agrees. “Megan brings dead women, executed women, back to life, giving them voices and gestures, earrings and memories, children and last suppers,” says Laux, who has won two Best American Poetry Prizes and a Pushcart Prize for her own work. “This is a murderous world not often seen, let alone in poetry.”

MFA alumna Megan Roberts

Roberts traces the roots of “Matters of Record” to a conversation in 2006 with Luke Whisnant, a writer and English professor at East Carolina University (ECU), where Roberts earned a master’s degree in English. Whisnant, one of Roberts’ mentors, had taught English to prison inmates and was discussing Velma Barfield, who was executed in 1984 for the murder of a boyfriend. She later confessed to three other murders, including her mother’s.

Barfield’s harsh childhood and complicated personality – she was a nurse to two of her victims – inspired “Margie and Me,” the earliest poem in “Matters of Record.” Common threads bind the women Roberts probes in her poems.

“I think a lot of these women had some resentment about their place in the world and their place in society,” says Roberts. “And murder was a way of controlling that.”

A native of Greenville, N.C., Roberts teaches English at Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C. While she was in the MFA program at NC State, she won the  2010 Academy of American Poets Prize. She is currently working on her first novel, “Everything’s Only a Mile Away.”

You can like “Matters of Record” on Facebook.