South Carolina Encyclopedia Guide to South Carolina Writers

By Tom Mack | Go to book overview

Nickens, Carrie Allen McCray (1913–2008).

Poet, memoirist. Nickens was born on October 4, 1913, in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she spent the first seven years of her life and where she attended the Virginia Seminary Primary School. Her father, William Patterson Allen, was a lawyer; her mother, Mary Rice Hayes Allen, was a college teacher. Nickens numbered as her siblings John, Minnie, Malinda, Gregory, Wilelbert, Hunter, Rosemary, and Dollie, as well as one stillborn child. As the ninth of ten children, Nickens recalled a Virginia childhood filled with the warmth of a close community. When she was seven, the writer’s family moved to Montclair, New Jersey, where she attended Spaulding Elementary School, Hillside Junior High, and Montclair High School. She received her bachelor of arts degree from Talladega College in 1935 and her master’s degree in social work from New York University in 1955. Nickens’s 1940 marriage to Winfield Scott Young, which produced her son and only child, the second Winfield Scott Young, ended in divorce in 1945. Her second marriage, to John H McCray, lasted until his death in 1987. In November of 2007, she married long-time friend, John Nickens. She died on July 25, 2008 at the age of 94; a year later, she was posthumously inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors. Since 2009 the Academy has sponsored an annual poetry fellowship in her name.

Asked, in a 1999 interview, what she remembered as the best of her childhood, she pointed to the following: “My seven years in Lynchburg … the school there and running down the road to visit our playmates who lived in an old, run-down house, but the warmth within was enveloping. We would sit around an old potbelly stove eating turnip greens and cornbread and their mama would sing with us and play games. Cracks were stuffed with paper in the sides of the house to keep wind out, but the love there kept us warm.” By contrast, she recalled the family’s move to New Jersey as edged with unhappiness and fear: “When we moved to Montclair, New Jersey—the threats to put us out of the white neighborhood. I was seven then and my father was receiving frightening calls and was warned about a possible cross-burning.”

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