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By Rose Steptoe, Graduate Writer

This year’s Thomas Wolfe Prize winner and lecturer is Michael Parker, an esteemed author in the Southern literary tradition whose work has recently turned to the West.

Parker’s latest publication, the novel Prairie Fever (Algonquin Books, May 2019), has received much acclaim. Dominic Smith, author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, writes “Prairie Fever is a riveting, atmospheric dream of a novel.” 

Parker has written six other novels — Hello Down There, Towns Without Rivers, Virginia Lovers, If You Want Me To Stay, The Watery Part of the World, and All I Have In This World — as well as three collections of stories: The Geographical Cure, Don’t Make Me Stop Now, and Everything, Then and Since.

Although he currently resides in Austin, Texas, Parker has deep connections with the University of North Carolina. He grew up in North Carolina, and he received his B.A. in creative writing from UNC Chapel Hill. While at UNC, Parker worked with Professor Marianne Gingher, who describes him as having been “a quiet, serious, observant young man” in her Advanced Fiction class in the 1980s. “From the first manuscript he turned in,” Gingher remarks, she “knew he was a real writer.” Since that course in the 1980s, the two have stayed in touch: “I am proud to say that Michael and I have been friends for almost forty years.”

Parker went on to complete his M.F.A. at the University of Virginia after leaving UNC—however, he found himself back in the state of North Carolina soon thereafter. From 1992 to 2019, Parker had a remarkable career teaching writing for UNC Greensboro’s M.F.A. program, where he was the inaugural recipient of the UNCG Nicholas and Nancy Vacc Distinguished Professorship.

Parker’s work has received numerous accolades, including fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Hobson Award for Arts and Letters,  the North Carolina Award for Literature, and O. Henry Award for short fiction (which he has won three times). In addition to the ten books he has published, Parker’s shorter works of both fiction and nonfiction have been featured in Five Points, the Georgia Review, The Southwest Review, Epoch, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Oxford American, New England Review, Southwest Review, Trail Runner, Runner’s World, and Men’s Journal.

The Thomas Wolfe Prize honors the memory of one of UNC Chapel Hill’s most famous alumni, novelist Thomas Clayton Wolfe (Class of 1920). Established in 1999, the program recognizes contemporary writers with exceptional bodies of work and gives both University students and the surrounding community the opportunity to hear from distinguished writers.

This year’s lecture, a public event, will be held via Zoom on Tuesday, October 6 at 7:30 p.m.

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