Fred Chappell, one of North Carolina’s most celebrated writers, has died at age 87.
He taught at UNC Greensboro for 40 years, joining in 1964. More than anyone, he made the UNCG MFA in Creative Writing program one of the finest in the nation.
His poetry, essays, and novels have been lauded nationally and beyond.
Chappell received the UNC System’s O. Max Gardner Award for his literary work and impact on his students. Other honors include the (Yale) Bollingen Prize in Poetry, the T.S. Eliot Prize, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and the Roanoke-Chowan Poetry Prize seven times over. In France, his novel “Dagon” was awarded the Prix de Meilleur des Livres Étrangers.
He was Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 1997 to 2002.
In 2022, the documentary film “I Am One of You Forever,” produced by UNCG professor Michael Frierson and financed in part by UNCG Light the Way campaign gifts, was screened on PBS NC (WUNC) statewide and at film festivals in the United States and Europe. (See film.)
He inspired a legion of Spartan students, many of whom went on to illustrious careers in the literary arts. He kept in touch with his former students, sending notes when he read a new book or story of theirs. Ruth Dickie ‘04 MFA, executive director of the National Book Foundation, was one of those students. She introduced him at a Greensboro screening of the film and said, “In all these years he has not only been doing his own critically important and exquisitely beautiful creative work, but he was also reading, and writing to, dozens if not hundreds of us, telling us that in this camp of storytellers, we all belong, and our stories don’t just matter, but are essential.”
The NC Writers’ Network notes, “As a professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, Chappell has mentored several of our state’s fine poets, including Sarah Lindsay, Pulitzer-prize winner Claudia Emerson, and Kathryn Stripling Byer, who succeeded him as state Poet Laureate.”
UNCG Magazine featured Chappell in the Fall 2022 issue. More than a dozen prominent writers and professors – all former UNCG students of his – shared their wonderful memories of his teaching. (See magazine – and article introduction.) That academic year was marked by UNCG’s MFA Writing Program as “A Celebration of Fred Chappell,” with two large, on-campus events attended by many former students and the UNCG community.
Terry Kennedy, director of the UNCG MFA in Creative Writing Program, said, “Fred Chappell always said that his students were his greatest legacy. It’s a comment that’s easy to dismiss given all of Fred’s publications and awards. But, hearing from so many of students today, I am reminded of the beauty of that desire. It’s the kind of legacy that keeps giving back to the literary community that Ole Fred loved so much.”
Funeral arrangements have not been announced. The family requests that anyone who wishes, instead of flowers, donate to UNCG’s Fred Chappell Creative Writing Fellowship Endowment Fund to support future students.
Story by Mike Harris, University Advancement.
Photo by Martin W. Kane.