Saturday, June 09, 2007

Fred Chappell Comes Home Again

Black Mountain College poet Ed Dorn said of his own youth that he didn't worry about being a success because where he came from, you were a success the minute you left town. And Dorn left town early. Fred Chappell, by Dorn's measure, has been a success for a long time now. And he's racked up success by other measures as well. Folks like novelist Lee Smith now think Fred's become a writer of real significance:
Anybody who knows anything about Southern writing knows that Fred Chappell is our resident genius, our shining light, the one truly great writer we have among us.
Chappell was born in Canton, a few miles to Asheville's west, and educated at Duke University. Over the years, he's written fourteen books of verse, two volumes of stories, one of criticism, and eight novels. He's a former North Carolina Poet Laureate, and has received numerous other awards and honors over his long career, including the Sir Walter Raleigh Prize (1973), the North Carolina Award for Literature (1980), Yale University Library's Bollingen Prize in poetry (1985), a literature award from the National Academy of Arts and Letters (1968), and the Aiken Taylor Award in poetry (1996). His works of fiction include I Am One of You Forever and Brighten The Corner Where You Are; his most recent book of poetry, Backsass, appeared in 2004, and Spring Garden, New and Selected Poems, appeared in 1996. He taught at UNC Greensboro from 1964 to 2004, and helped found its MFA Writing Program. Along the way he's helped nurture the talents of WNC poet Robert Morgan, best known, perhaps, as the author of the 1999 novel Gap Creek (Morgan says he found in Chappell his "perfect reader"), Cullowhee poet Kay Byer, our current Poet Laureate, and many, many others - including, for one long-ago semester, myself. He eventually became the Burlington Industries Excellence Professor of English there, and is still a faculty member emeritus of the University's writing program. He lives, as he has for the last four decades, in Greensboro, with his wife Susan.

After so many books, and so many successes, it's perhaps surprising that Chappell offers the mordant and modest confession that
As a writer, failure is my stock in trade.
That's a wonderfully concise statement: failure is "stock in trade" for writers both in the sense that writers find in inevitable human failures, including their own, the materials and the sources of their work, and that, at the same time, writers are faced continually with the failures of the forms in which they work, and are tasked with reinventing them, rediscovering the always-failing tools of their language with every text. Fred's discovered a gift for the epigram.

On Tuesday, June 12, 7:30 pm, Fred will return to the mountains (you can go home again, after all) for a very special evening at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center at 56 Broadway, downtown. Two other acclaimed WNC writers, Keith Flynn and Glenis Redmond, will join him for the event. Sebastian Matthews, the Asheville-based author and editor of Rivendell, will host the night and introduce each of the authors. The reading will celebrate the publication of Native Genius, the recent issue of Rivendell that features a bevy of Southern Appalachian writers and highlights the Asheville-area poetry scene.

Chappell's fellows for the night also have their own claims to fame. Keith Flynn studied at Mars Hill College and UNC-Asheville. He's the author of four collections of poetry, The Talking Drum, The Book of Monsters, The Lost Sea and The Golden Ratio. He is also the founder and managing editor of Asheville Poetry Review, a biannual literary journal. He has a new prose book out from Writer's Digest Books, The Rhythm Method, Razzmatazz, and Memory: How to Make Your Poetry Swing.

The dynamic Glenis Redmond has won numerous awards, including The Carrie McCray Literary Award in Poetry, a study fellowship from Vermont Writing Center, scholarships to the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and a week of study with Natalie Goldberg. She is the 1997 and the 1998 Southeast Regional Individual Poetry Slam Champion; she placed in the Top 10 at the National Individual Slam Championship in 1996 and 1997, and has recently released her second CD, Monumental. When she's in town, she helps Sebastian, Laura Hope-Gill and me produce and host WordPlay, WPVM's Sunday afternoon program on poets and poetry. She's simply one of the very best at what she does.

The evening, a benefit for the Center, will include the raffle of a signed, limited-edition fine art broadside of Charles Wright's "China Traces" created at BookWorks Studio.

These festivities will be co-sponsored by Rivendell Literary Arts, Book Works Studio, Malaprops Bookstore, & The Captain's Bookshelf.

Not free, but it should be well worth the modest admission.

What: Fred Chappell, Keith Flynn, and Glenis Redmond
Where: The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
When: Tuesday, June 12, 7:30 pm
Admission: $12, $10 for BMCM+AC members and students w/ID.
For more information: 828-350-8484


With help from Sebastian Matthews and Alice Sebrell. First published in the dead tree Rapid River for June, 2007.

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