Growing up in the North Carolina mountains near Asheville, writer Fred Chappell, working to find his own literary voice, resisted association with the area’s literary legend, Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe, he said, had achieved the “status of folklore.” However, on October 6, Chappell graciously accepted the 2005 Thomas Wolfe Prize, which honors his impressive body of work, including seventeen collections of poetry, eight novels, two books of short fiction, two books of essays, and a multi-genre reader. Following the presentation, Chappell delivered the annual Thomas Wolfe Lecture to an appreciative capacity crowd in the Morehead Banquet Hall on campus. His remarks were characterized by his trademark rich prose, which distills folksiness, intellectualism, humor, and piercing insights into language and observations that delight and startle.
Chappell is the first native North Carolinian to receive the award that honors UNC’s most famous literary alumnus Thomas Wolfe (1920), author of Look Homeward, Angel. Chappell’s works include his masterpiece Midquest (1984), a four-book verse novel, and the tetralogy of Kirkman novels from I Am One of Your Forever (1985) through Look Back All the Green Valley (1999). Besides teaching writing and literature at UNC-Greensboro from 1964 to 2004, Chappell served as state Poet Laureate from 1997-2002.