Skip to main content

75 Years Creative Writing at Carolina

Since 1947, Carolina has been home to some of the most innovative writing in the South and in the nation, both from its faculty and its students. This year, we celebrate 75 years of creative writing at Carolina with a bounty of readings and performances for lovers of literature.

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 dramatists; others discover their vocations while undergraduates. The University has long had a vigorous writing tradition, beginning when “Proff” Koch, Paul Green, and Samuel Selden were working with Thomas Wolfe, Kay Kyser, Betty Smith, Frances Gray Patton, and Howard Richardson in the early twentieth century. Beginning in 1947 and continuing for almost two decades, Jessie Rehder served as a one-woman program and published several books of her students’ work; upon her death in 1966, Max Steele became director of Creative Writing the program expanded to include such legendary writers as Doris Betts and Daphne Athas. In the years since, Carolina’s Creative Writing program has been home to luminaries like Randall Kenan, Lee Smith, Sarah Dessen, Carolyn Kizer, Algonquin Books founder Louis D. Rubin, Alan Shapiro, Pam Durban, Michael Chitwood, and Marianne Gingher. Hundreds of alumni have gone on to write books, films, albums, plays, and television shows, pursue graduate study in creative writing, and publish stories, poems, and essays in the world’s best journals, magazines, and newspapers.

To give, click the following links: Creative Writing Gift Fund, The Randall Kenan Memorial Fund, The Daphne-Athas Gram-O-Rama Fund.

Join us as we celebrate 75 years of creative writing at Carolina.

All events are free and open to the public.

Sunday, September 11, 2022: Black Folk Could Fly, a celebration of the life and work of Randall Kenan

4:00 p.m. / Hill Hall

Our beloved colleague and friend Randall Kenan was one of the most influential writers in America. Hailing from a small town in Duplin County, Randall came to Carolina to find his voice as a writer. And find it, he did—Randall’s clear-eyed vision of the South set the tone for a generation of writers. This September, we’ll honor that voice by celebrating the release of Black Folk Could Fly, a collection of his extraordinary essays. Touching on subjects ranging from the women who raised him to James Baldwin to the lowlands of eastern North Carolina, these essays reveal the tenderness and heart behind Randall’s powerful intellect. We hope you will join us as we remember the life and work of a writer whose legacy will shape American letters for decades to come.


Tuesday, September 13, 2022: 2022 Blanche B. Armfield Poetry Reading: Paul Tran

3:30 p.m. / Donovan Lounge, Greenlaw Hall (second floor)

Paul Tran is the author of the debut poetry collection, All the Flowers Kneeling, from Penguin in the US and the UK. They are a Visiting Faculty in Poetry at Pacific University MFA in Writing and a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. A recipient of the Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and a Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize, their work appears in The New Yorker, The Nation, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere.


Thursday, September 22, 2022: Kenan Visiting Writer Reading: Julia Ridley Smith

3:30 p.m. / Donovan Lounge, Greenlaw Hall (second floor)

Julia Ridley Smith’s first book, The Sum of Trifles, is a memoir published by the University of Georgia Press (2021) as a title in their Crux literary nonfiction series. Julia’s short stories and essays have appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, American Literary Review, Arts and Letters, the Carolina Quarterly, Chelsea, Ecotone, Electric Literature, the Greensboro Review, the New England Review, Southern Cultures, and The Southern Review, among other places. Her book and art reviews have been published in Art Papers, Our State, the Raleigh News and Observer, and elsewhere.


Photo credit: Michael Avedon

Thursday, October 6, 2022: 2022 Thomas Wolfe Lecture: Percival Everett

7:30 p.m., Moeser Auditorium in Hill Hall

Highly praised for his storytelling and ability to address the toughest issues of our time with humor, grace, and originality, Percival Everett is the author of more than thirty novels and story collections, including Dr. NO (2022);  The Trees (2021), which won the 2022 Ainisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction and was longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize; Telephone (2020), which was a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in fiction; So Much Blue (2017); Glyph (2014); Percival Everett by Virgil Russell (2013); I Am Not Sidney Poitier (2009); and Erasure (2001), all published by Graywolf Press. His novel Telephone has three different endings, depending on the version you read—and you can’t know ahead of time which ending you will get.


Thursday, October 13, 2022: Kenan Visiting Writer Reading: Sophie Klahr

3:30 p.m. / Donovan Lounge, Greenlaw Hall (second floor)

Sophie Klahr is the author of Two Open Doors in a Field (Backwaters Press, 2023) & Meet Me Here At Dawn (Yesyes Books). With Corey Zeller, she co-authored There Is Only One Ghost in the World  (Fiction Collective 2, 2023), winner of the 2022 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest.


Tuesday, November 29, 2022:  Gram-O-Rama

5:30 p.m. / location TBD

If John Lennon, Gertrude Stein, Stephen Hawking, and Mother Goose had conspired to write a grammar course, Gram-O-Rama would be it. Designed by longtime faculty member Daphne Athas for word-lovers and verbal pranksters, it encourages writers to experiment with grammatical functions, style, rhythm, and sound. The 2022 Gram-O-Rama course will perform their final show—an evening of comedy, music, and linguistic hijinks you’ll not soon forget.


Thursday, February 9, 2022: Kenan Visiting Writer Reading: Destiny Hemphill

3:30 p.m. / Donovan Lounge, Greenlaw Hall (second floor)

Destiny Hemphill is a ritual worker and poet based in Durham, NC. A recipient of fellowships from Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program, Callaloo, Tin House, and Kenyon’s Writers Workshop, she is the author of the poetry collection Oracle: a Cosmology (Honeysuckle Press, 2018). Her work can be found in Poetry Magazine, Winter Tangerine, Scalawag, Frontier Poetry, and elsewhere.

late March 2023: Distinguished Visiting Writer: Monique Truong

co-sponsored by the Asian American Center

date, time, and location TBD

Monique Truong is the Vietnamese American author of the bestselling, award-winning novels The Book of Salt, Bitter in the Mouth, and The Sweetest Fruits and the co-author of the forthcoming children’s picture book Mai’s Áo Dài. She’s also a former refugee, essayist, avid eater, lyricist/librettist, and intellectual property attorney (more or less in this order). A Guggenheim Fellow, U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Fellow in Tokyo, Princeton University’s Hodder Fellow, Visiting Writer at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, and Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence at Baruch College, Truong received the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature in 2021.


April 2023: Senior Honors Readings in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction

dates, times, and locations TBD

Students from the senior honors thesis seminars read their work.