There is no real way I can express how deeply saddened I am. I can only tell you that the death of my friend and colleague hurts and shocks me. He took his own life this week.
Stephen March was a great man. He was a great writer and he was a great friend.
I was first introduced to him through his novel, “Catbird.” I interviewed him about his book, and I wrote a piece that extolled his grasp on the Southern, gothic novel. I saw Stephen March, the author, as a part of a legacy that had been set forth by the likes of such giants as William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor.
Steve’s work was his own and as I wrote in that first piece, while it’s never fair to compare a writer to such people, he has earned a place with these Southern scribes. Stephen March understood the Southern ethos.
His next novel was also a deeply Southern tale. “A Stranger in the Land of Egypt,” was my favorite by far and seemed to evoke a passion for humankind that I would begin to understand in Steve as we would lunch together at the Cypress Creek Grill, or talk in the parking lot of The Daily Advance.
We talked of writing and journalism and the stories that we loved to tell. He had been a journalist before earning his Masters in Fine Art degree – a degree that would lead him to become a beloved professor of journalism, literature and creative writing at Elizabeth City State University.
In fact, I owe him a deep debt of gratitude. He knew that one of my deepest desires had been to become a professor. And while I am not an official faculty member, because my friend had great faith in me I am an advisor to the student journalists who produce the campus publication, The Compass.
Steve had a great deal of faith in my work. If I received an email from him about a piece I had written, or a column I had penned, I was thrilled and I can tell you that those pieces have been entered into contests over the years because that is how much I respected his opinion.
He also entrusted me with one of his greatest accomplishments, his son Julian. When Julian was a student at Northeastern High School, Steve asked me if I would take him on as an intern.
Julian, he told me, might be a bit timid about interviewing people, but the boy – he’s now a man – can write. And so I said yes, and it was one of those great decisions that I have celebrated over the years.
When Julian, a 17-year-old, filed his first story with me, I was floored by the depth of it and even the skill his writing possessed. His work was as good as any first-year reporter fresh out of college.
Julian is now a veteran reporter writing for the Wilmington Star-News.
Steve’s younger son Leland has been majoring in English. He is Steve’s next rising star, a son he loved deeply, and we would all do well to remember his name.
Steve was not just a father, professor and author, he also wrote a column for us. In fact he has written a column for us for years.
Each Sunday, if you have followed the Albemarle Life section of The Daily Advance, you have read about the exploits of the boys at Lucky’s Billiards and their resident sage, Abner Sessoms. You have also read about his buddy AJ, or Reb Lightfoot and you even got to know a little bit about his mother, a bold journalist whom Steve adored.
Stephen March perhaps told us more about the man behind the letters in his columns than anywhere else — books, conversations or perhaps even lectures. Many readers have commented to me how he has touched their lives.
Steve wrote his columns well in advance of publication. Because of his prolific writing, I have seven unpublished columns by Stephen March.
Beginning this Sunday, we will run these final columns. And each one will remind us of the great man we loved, and the great man we lost.
To Mary, Julian and Leland, thank you for sharing him. You loss is our loss. We all loved Stephen March.