The program is being put together by the Friends of the Hamlet Library, is free and open to the public.
Meacham is a 1969 graduate of Hamlet High School and a 1973 graduate of UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism.
He didn’t leave Hamlet permanently until after graduation when he got his first job at the Asheville Citizen-Times. Meacham has also worked for The Charlotte News and the San Jose Mercury News in San Jose, Calif., where he still lives.
“I will always be connected to Hamlet even though my parents are now dead and I no longer have relatives there,” Meacham said of his hometown.
Since moving to California in 1985 Meacham said he tries to visit Hamlet once a year.
“It’s more difficult now with my current job and my son in college, but I still have friends there and my sister lives in Pinehurst,” Meacham said.
While working for the San Jose Mercury News Meacham covered a variety of sports including college basketball, NASCAR, Japanese sumo wrestling, the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup playoffs and soccer’s World Cup. He was also the Olympics writer for the Mercury News and covered both the winter and summer games for several years.
His career as a writer has taken him all over the world but he’s always stayed connected to Hamlet.
“I loved growing up in Hamlet even though I realized, probably in high school, that I’d eventually move away,” Meacham said. “I grew up very interested in the larger world outside Hamlet, a world I was introduced to through books I read and the stories that my grandparents and parents — who loved to travel — told me. I was always interested in the way my town was connected to that world by the Seaboard Railroad.
“I worked for the Seaboard as a brakeman on the yard and out on the road on freight trains for two summers while I was a UNC student. I wanted whatever career I chose to give me a chance to see that world and journalism was that opportunity. Sometimes when kids grow up and leave, people in their hometown take that as a rejection. In some cases that may be correct. But for me, even though I love living in San Jose and my family has put down roots here, I still love coming back to visit and I always will as often as I can.”
And Meacham’s love for Hamlet has been made evident in his unpublished novel “Through the Heart of the South.”
Meacham said as a writer, friends and family often asked when he’d finally write a book.
“For a long time, I never had any desire to write one,” he said. “Part of the reason was that the advice any book writer gets is to write about what you know, what you’ve experienced and I didn’t think I knew or had experienced anything interesting enough that anyone would want to read it.”
But as he began traveling the country and meeting other reporters and writers, he discovered his experience growing up in a small railroad town in North Carolina was interesting to friends who were from other areas of the country.
“They were fascinated that I grew up during the Civil Rights era when Hamlet and the South were undergoing enormous societal change,” Meacham explained. “My graduating class at Hamlet High School in 1969 was the first that combined the full senior class of Hamlet and Monroe Avenue High schools.”
Meacham’s book is fiction and the town in the book is called Shortridge, for John Shortridge, Hamlet’s founder.
“But any reader who knows Hamlet would recognized the town, the railroad station, the passenger trains, high school football and the big season-ending rivalry game between Shortridge and Northampton,” Meacham said. “They’d be surprised that I-95 runs through Shortridge, but you can do that as a fiction writer.”
The main character in Meacham’s book is Chris McAndrew, a senior at Shortridge High School.
“In creating the story I adapted events that I remembered or that happened to friends and classmates whom I interviewed during my research,” Meacham said. “In real life my senior year, I was the Hamlet quarterback and we lost all 10 games that season, playing Rockingham in the final game with only 13 players in uniform. The research was one of the most satisfying parts of writing the book because it gave me the reason to talk to black classmates I had barely known when I was in school, to find out about their experiences during our senior year. The story would have been very weak without that insight.”
Meacham will celebrate and attend his 40th high school reunion the weekend before his library presentation.
Meacham said the only thing he hasn’t accomplished yet, that he’d like to, is getting a publisher for his book.
“I’m hoping I can make a new career writing novels,” he said. “Other than that, my goals beyond seeing my son through college and into adulthood are to stay curious and interested enough in the world that I’m always looking for new things to do.”
Sharon Davis, Martha Jo Hitt and Beth Ritter, all on the board of the Friends of the Hamlet library, said Meacham is someone to be proud of.
“He’s just so talented and as a community we should be proud we have someone who’s done so well,” Davis said. “We need to be more aware of someone like this.”
“We want a really big turnout since he’s come back to share with us,” said Hitt.
The program begins at 7 p.m. Monday at the old Hamlet Library located on Rice Street in Hamlet.
n Eren Tataragasi can be reached at 997-3111 ext. 19 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org