History

 

Chapel Hill has always been a magnet for writers. Some students come with the goal of becoming novelists or short story writers or poets or essayists or dramatists; others discover their vocations as undergraduates. There was no formal Creative Writing Program until 1966, but the University has had a vigorous writing tradition since the early part of this century, when "Prof" Koch, Paul Green, and Samuel Selden were working with Thomas Wolfe, Kay Kyser, Betty Smith, Frances Gray Patton, and Howard Richardson. Although their focus was on creating original "folk plays" for the Carolina Playmakers, many of these writers succeeded as novelists. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Phillips Russell taught creative writing in both the English and Journalism departments, influencing generations of reporters and broadcasters from Louis Harris to Roger Mudd. Beginning in 1947 and continuing for almost two decades, Jessie Rehder served as a one-woman program and edited several collections of her students' work; upon her death in 1966, Max Steele became director of Creative Writing and hired Daphne Athas and Doris Betts. James Seay led the program from 1987 to 1996, and was succeeded by Marianne Gingher (1997-2002), Bland Simpson (2002-2008),  Michael McFee (2008-2011) and Daniel Wallace (2011 - present). Besides the present much larger staff, teachers in the past years have included William Blackburn, celebrated mentor of Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell, and other writers at Duke; John Knowles, author of A Separate Peace; Carolyn Kizer, who later won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Louis D. Rubin, Jr., founder of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill; Lee Smith, author of many prizewinning books of fiction; Elizabeth Spencer, a member of the American Institute of Arts and Letters; and a number of others, among them Christopher Brookhouse, Elizabeth Cox, William McCranor Henderson, Jessie Schell, and Sylvia Wilkinson.