When I first met Cameron Huntley in 2013, he wanted to know how to become a writer for Mountain Xpress and, eventually, other publications. What’s more, he said he might one day like to become a foreign correspondent.
I was managing editor at the time, and Huntley was working for the city of Asheville. Xpress didn’t have any job openings, even for a talented young man with many dreams, but over coffee we talked about how he could start as a freelance contributor.
My purview was news. Huntley was already working on a non-news, feature-story idea: a summer/fall series about Asheville-centric comic-book and gaming stories.
Before we had finished coffee — and compared football-obsessed alma maters (Clemson University for Huntley, University of Alabama for me) — I learned that Huntley was good at making his case. A comic-book/gaming-store series wasn’t typical Xpress fare. But we went with it. (See “Fantastic Store,” the first in the series; and “Hero Worship,” one of my favorites.)
Over the next two years, I worked with Huntley, editing his work, coordinating his assignments, giving him feedback and arguing over word choices and story length (he would submit 5,000 words when we had room for 3,000). He continued to write about off-the-radar topics, like a secret skateboarding park (“Poetic Mayhem”). He also wrote about people, like power-lifter Jennifer Payne, members of the WNC Diversity Engagement Commission, organizers of Least of These and local youth participants in the Me2We Conference. By and large, Huntley’s stories focused on people who were doing something meaningful in their lives and, quite often, providing a community service.
Somewhere in the mix, I talked him into covering meetings of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners for a while, and then the Asheville City Council ones. He never fully embraced the task, which wasn’t a bad thing. Huntley, I suspect, wanted to look deeper at the issues and people involved in those issues instead of simply reporting what happened.
Periodically, we’d talk about the future and how to get there. In the middle of his last Xpress article, the May 2015 cover story “Digital Divide,” Huntley told me he was returning to Kenya, where he had first gone as part of a church group. He was drawn to go there, he told me. I remember his excitement and joy at the prospect. I remember being sad to see him go. Good writers aren’t common, and I had always enjoyed talking with Huntley about almost any topic. But I knew he was following a dream.
So when I read in the Asheville Citizen-Times that he had been shot and killed in Africa, I cried. Huntley, an Erwin High School graduate, was 26.
Eblen Charities is collecting donations to help Huntley’s family. For more information, call 255-3066.
To see more of Huntley’s articles, click here. Les Reker — director of the Rural Heritage Museum in Mars Hill — sent me these comments:
“I knew Cameron Huntley as an impressive young man and an incredible writer. I first got to know him when he contacted me regarding his writing a couple articles for the Mountain Xpress about exhibitions at the Rural Heritage Museum at Mars Hill University. One very important story he wrote was printed on January 21, 2015. It was the cover story that week. The headline was ‘WE REMEMBER, Saving Madison County’s Rosenwald School.’ The exhibition about which it was based was titled ‘Our Story – This Place, The History of African American Education in Madison County, North Carolina: The Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School.’
“Cameron carried out incredibly extensive research for this article. He visited the Museum several times and conducted interviews with all the principle people. He also attended the panel discussions, committee meetings and all the programming related to the exhibition. He went above and beyond what most would think was necessary for a single article. He demonstrated a deep commitment, a profound sensitivity, incredible patience and a real passion for accuracy. Although he was writing prose it seemed more like poetry.
“We became friends after that. I was impressed with his willingness to quit everything and move to Kenya to teach and write. We emailed from time to time and then visited over lunch when he came home to visit last summer. We had planned to get together again this summer.
He was a very special person and his loss is keenly felt.” — Les Reker, director, Rural Heritage Museum, Mars Hill, N.C.