Acclaimed poet and novelist Fred Chappell was born on a small farm in Canton, North Carolina in 1936. He attended Duke University, where he befriended fellow writers Anne Tyler, Reynolds Price, and James Appelwhite. The author of over a dozen books of poetry, a handful of novels and short story collections, and two books of critical prose, Chappell has received numerous awards for his work, including the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Bollingen Award, the Aiken Taylor Award, an award from the National Academy of Arts and Letters, and the best foreign book prize from the Academie Française. He was named North Carolina Poet Laureate in 1997, a position he held until 2002.
Drawing on childhood memories and the character of his home region, Chappell’s poetry and prose investigates Southern experience. His early novels were sometimes described as “Southern Gothic,” and he was seen as part of a tradition that included William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. In novels like It Is Time, Lord (1963), The Inkling (1965), and Dagon (1968), which won the French Academy’s Prix de Meilleur des Lettres Etrangers, Chappell explores madness, violence, and even horror. His later cycle of inter-connected short stories, The Kirkman Tetralogy which included volumes such as I Am One of You Forever (1985) and Farewell, I’m Bound to Leave You (1996), focuses on personal experience, layering fiction with some of the facts and circumstances of Chappell’s own life. Chappell’s fiction has been widely praised, and he is frequently linked to a Southern tradition of writers. Writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Frank Levering stated: “Not since James Agee and Robert Penn Warren has a Southern writer displayed such masterful versatility. Together with only a handful of his American contemporaries, Chappell reminds us of the almost forgotten phrase ‘man of letters.’”
Though Chappell first gained critical attention for his prose, he has since become widely known as a poet. His first collection of poetry, The World Between the Eyes (1971) won the Roanoke-Chowan Poetry Cup. Of his shift from prose to poetry, Chappell told Contemporary Authors: ““Now for the first time I could begin to think directly about the most important intellectual and artistic endeavor in the world: the composition of poetry.” Other early collections of poetry include The Man Twice Married to Fire (1977) and Awakening to Music (1979). One of Chappell’s most ambitious works is Midquest (1981), “a four-volume poetic autobiography,” as the poet himself described it. Prior to its release as a single volume in 1981, the work was published in four separate volumes—River, Bloodfire, Wind Mountain, and Earthsleep—between the years 1975 and 1980. Chappell has published numerous collections of poetry since Midquest, including Spring Garden: New and Selected Poems (1995). Other recent titles include Family Gathering (2000), Backsass (2004), and Shadowbox (2009).
The Fred Chappell Reader (1987) contains selections from the author’s poetry, short stories, and novels, including the entire text of Dagon. For several critics, the volume presents Chappell as an uncommonly talented writer in several genres. Reviewing the book for the Washington Post Book World, Frederick Busch called Chappell a “writer of breadth and distinction.” The Reader also highlights the similarities in Chappell’s work, whatever the genre. Busch argued that, “Chappell in his work as a whole examines dreams, fears and the particular beauties of his native North Carolina with a country kid’s instinct for what’s before him, and a metaphysician’s squint at what lies far beyond such beautiful harshness.”
Fred Chappell taught at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro for over 40 years, where he helped establish the MFA in writing program and received the O. Max Gardner Award for teaching. His essay collections include Plow Naked: Selected Essays on Poetry (1993) and A Way of Happening: Observations of Contemporary Poetry (1998). Retired from teaching, he lives with his wife Susan in North Carolina.
Brown Supply Co., Candler, NC, general manager, 1957-59; Candler Furniture Co., Candler, credit manager, 1959-60; Duke University Press, Durham, NC, proofreader, 1961; University of North Carolina at Greensboro, professor of English, 1964—.
- The World between the Eyes, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1971.
- River (also see below), Louisiana State University Press, 1975.
- The Man Twice Married to Fire, Unicorn Press (Greensboro, NC), 1977.
- Bloodfire (also see below), Louisiana State University Press, 1978.
- Wind Mountain (also see below), Louisiana State University Press, 1979.
- Awakening to Music, Briarpatch Press (Davidson, NC), 1979.
- Earthsleep (also see below), Louisiana State University Press, 1980.
- Driftlake: A Lieder Cycle, Iron Mountain Press (Emory, VA), 1981.
- Midquest (includes River, Bloodfire, Wind Mountain, and Earthsleep), Louisiana State University Press, 1981.
- Castle Tzingal, Louisiana State University Press, 1984.
- Source, Louisiana State University Press, 1986.
- First and Last Words, Louisiana State University Press, 1989.
- C: Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 1993.
- Spring Garden: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 1995.
- Family Gathering: Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 2000.
- Backsass: Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 2004.
- Shadow Box: Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 2009.
- It Is Time, Lord, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1963.
- The Inkling, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1965, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1998.
- Dagon, Harcourt, 1968.
- The Gaudy Place, Harcourt, 1972.
- Moments of Light (stories), New South (Los Angeles, CA), 1980.
- I Am One of You Forever, Louisiana State University Press, 1985.
- Brighten the Corner Where You Are, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1989.
- More Shapes than One (stories), St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1991.
- Farewell, I’m Bound to Leave You (connected short stories), Picador (New York, NY), 1996.
- Look Back All the Green Valley, Picador USA (New York, NY), 1999.
- Ancestors and Others: New and Selected Stories, St. Martin’s Press, 2009.
- The Fred Chappell Reader (contains excerpts from his poetry, novels, and short stories), St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1987.
- Plow Naked: Selected Writings on Poetry (essays), University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1993.
- A Way of Happening: Observations of Contemporary Poetry (essays), Picador USA (New York, NY), 1998.
Contributor to Sewanee Review, Triquarterly, Saturday Evening Post, American Review, and other periodicals. Contributing editor, Skyhook, Red Clay Reader, Shenandoah, and Georgia Review; advisory editor, Greensboro Review, Appalachian Heritage, Brown Bag and Denver Quarterly; editor, Archive and Fly by Night. Monthly book columnist for the News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. A collection of Chappell’s manuscripts are housed at Duke University.
- Bizzaro, Patrick, editor, Dream Garden: The Poetic Vision of Fred Chappell, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1997.
- Broughton, Irv, editor, The Writer's Mind: Interviews with American Authors, Volume 3, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 1990.
- Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
- Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 40, 1986, Volume 78, 1993.
- Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
- Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit,MI), 1996.
- Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 6: American Novelists since World War II, Second Series, 1980, Volume 105: American Poets since World War II, 1991.
- Garrett, George, editor, Craft So Hard to Learn: Conversations with Poets and Novelists about the Teaching of Writing, Morrow (New York, NY), 1972.
- Lang, John, Understanding Fred Chappell, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 2001.
- Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature, 1975-1991, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
- Sullivan, Jack, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.
- America, November 13, 1993, p. 21.
- American Book Review, July-August, 1981.
- American Poetry Review, July-August, 1982.
- Best Sellers, August 15, 1963; August 15, 1965; September 1, 1968.
- Booklist, June 1, 2000, Joanne Wilkinson, review of I Am One of You Forever, p. 1850; October 1, 2000, Ray Olson, review of Family Gathering: Poems, p. 313.
- Book Week, August 15, 1965.
- Boston Review, February, 1986.
- Chicago Review, summer, 1981.
- Chicago Tribune, April 9, 1987; October 24, 1989.
- Choice, October, 1973.
- Entertainment Weekly, September 6, 1996, p. 70.
- Georgia Review, spring, 1973.
- Hollins Critic, April, 1973.
- Hudson Review, spring, 1976.
- Library Journal, February 15, 1973; February 15, 1998, David Kirby, review of A Way of Happening: Observations of Contemporary Poetry, p. 141; July, 1999, Ellen R. Cohen, review of Look Back All the Green Valley, p. 129; September 15, 2000, Tim Gavin, review of Family Gathering, p. 81.
- Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 24, 1987; September 17, 1989.
- Mississippi Quarterly, fall, 1978; winter, 1983-84, pp. 3-88.
- New Republic, June 2, 1973.
- New York Times, January 16, 1985.
- New York Times Book Review, September 8, 1963; September 29, 1968; May 13, 1973; September 15, 1985; October 1, 1989; October 6, 1991, p. 20; December 15, 1996.
- Parnassus, fall/ winter, 1981, pp. 115-129.
- Pembroke, Volume 17, 1985, Paul Ruffin, "Interview with Fred Chappell," pp. 131-135.
- Poetry, August, 1999, Christian Wiman, review of A Way of Happening, p. 286.
- Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1985; February 1, 1993, p. 88; July 15, 1996, p. 53; September 30, 1996, p. 55; March 2, 1998, review of A Way of Happening, p. 49; July 19, 1999, review of Look Back All the Green Valley, p. 181.
- Saturday Review, August 10, 1963.
- Sewanee Review, April, 1970; July, 1976.
- Southern Living, September, 1999, Griffith Roberts, "An Evening with Fred," pp. 60-61.
- Southern Review, October, 1976; winter, 1991, pp. 200-220.
- Times Literary Supplement, November 10, 1966.
- Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1969; summer, 1973.
- Washington Post Book World, March 29, 1987; October 1, 1989; October 6, 1991, p. 5.
- World and I, December, 1999, Robert Gingher, "Father's Secret Life," p. 244.
- North Carolina Poet Laureate, http://www.ncarts.org/poetlaur/ (October 2, 2001).