Chappell, Fred

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Nationality: American. Born: Canton, North Carolina, 28 May 1936. Education: Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, 1954–61, 1961–64, B.A. 1961, M.A. 1964. Family: Married Susan Nicholls in 1959; one son. Career: Professor of English, University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Awards: Rockefeller grant, 1967–68; National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1968; Roanoke-Chowan poetry award, 1972, 1975, 1979, 1980, 1985; Prix de Meilleur des Livres Estrangers (Academie Francaise), 1972; Sir Walter Raleigh prize, 1972; Oscar A. Young Memorial award, 1980; North Carolina award in literature, 1980; Zoe Kincaid Brockman award, 1981; Bollingen prize, 1985; Endowed Chair: The Burlington Industries Professorship, 1988; O. Max Gardner award, the Universities of North Carolina, 1987; Ragan-Rubin award, North Carolina English Teachers Association, 1989; Thomas H. Carter award, Shenandoah, 1991; World Fantasy award for best short story, 1992, 1994; T.S. Eliot prize, Ingersoll Foundation, 1993; Aiken Taylor award in poetry, 1996; North Carolina poet laureate, 1998. Member: Fellowship of Southern Writers. Agent: Rhoda Weyr, 151 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, New York 11217, U.S.A. Address: 305 Kensington Road, Greensboro, North Carolina 27403, U.S.A.



The World between the Eyes. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1971.

River. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1975.

The Man Twice Married to Fire. Greensboro, North Carolina, Unicorn Press, 1977.

Bloodfire. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

Awakening to Music. Davidson, North Carolina, Briarpatch Press, 1979.

Wind Mountain. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1979.

Earthsleep. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, n.d.

Driftlake: A Lieder Cycle. Emory, Virginia, Iron Mountain Press, 1981.

Midquest. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1981.

Castle Tzingal. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1988.

First and Last Words. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1988.

C: 100 Poems. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1993.

Spring Garden: New and Selected Poems. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University, 1995.


It Is Time, Lord. New York, Atheneum, 1963.

The Inkling. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1965.

Dagon. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1968.

The Gaudy Place. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1972.

I Am One of You Forever. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1985.

Brighten the Corner Where You Are. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Farewell, I'm Bound to Leave You. New York, Picador, 1996.

Look Back All the Green Valley. New York, Picador, 1999.

Short Stories

Moments of Light. Los Angeles, New South, 1980.

More Shapes than One. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1991.


The Fred Chappell Reader. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1987.

Plow Naked: Selected Writings on Poetry. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1993.

A Way of Happening: Observations of Contemporary Poetry. New York, Picador, 1998.


Manuscript Collection: Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

Critical Studies: "Letters from a Distant Lover: The Novels of Fred Chappell" by R.H.W. Dillard, in Hollins Critic (Hollins College, Virginia), 10(2), 1973; "A Writer's Harmonious World" by Kelly Cherry, in Parnassus (New York), 9(2), fall-winter 1981; "Quest and Midquest: Fred Chappell and the First-Person Personal Epic" by Alan Nadel, in New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly (Middlebury, Vermont), 6(2), winter 1983; "Images of Impure Water in Chappell's River" by Donald Secreast, in Mississippi Quarterly (Mississippi State), 37(1), winter 1983–84; "A Few Things about Fred Chappell" by George Garrett, in Mississippi Quarterly (Mississippi State), 37(1), winter 1983–84; "Walking the Intellectual Hills" by Paul Rice, in Chattahoochee Review, 11(1), fall 1990; "Tributes to Fred Chappell" by Sam Ragan and others, in Pembroke Magazine (Pembroke, North Carolina), 23, 1991; "Spiritual Matter in Fred Chappell's Poetry: A Prologue" by Dabney Stuart, in Southern Review (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 27(1), winter 1991; "Fred Chappell's I Am One of You Forever: The Oneiros of Childhood Transformed" by Amy Tipton Gray, in The Poetics of Appalachian Space, edited by Parks Lanier, Jr., Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1991; "Friend of Reason: Surveying the Fred Chappell Papers at Duke University" by Alex Albright, in North Carolina Literary Review, 1(1), summer 1992; "Fred Chappell's Castle Tzingal: Modern Revival of Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy" by Edward C. Lynskey, in Pembroke Magazine (Pembroke, North Carolina), 25, 1993; "Fred Chappell's Urn of Memory: I Am One of You Forever" by Hilbert Campbell, in Southern Literary Journal (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), 25(2), spring 1993; "Fred Chappell" by Tersh Palmer, in Appalachian Journal (Boone, North Carolina), 19(4), summer 1992; "Chappell's Continuities: First and Last Words" by Peter Makuck, in Virginia Quarterly Review (Charlottesville, Virginia), 68(2), spring 1992; The Appalachian Literary Tradition and the Works of Fred Chappell: Three Essays (dissertation) by Susan O'Dell Underwood, Florida State University, 1995; "Fred Chappell: From the Mountains to the Mainstream" by Jennifer Howard, in Publishers Weekly, 243(40), September 1996; Folklore and Literature: The Poetry and Fiction of Fred Chappell (dissertation) by Carmine David Palumbo, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1997; Dream Garden: The Poetic Vision of Fred Chappell edited by Patric Bizzaro, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1997; "Fred Chappell: Midquestions" by Randolph Paul Runyon, in Southern Writers at Century's End, edited by Jeffrey Folks and James Perkins, Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1997.

Fred Chappell comments:

As my purposes in poetry are simple—to entertain and to instruct—so do I try to keep my aesthetic philosophy simple. I believe that every poem or group of poems generates its own aesthetic standards and it is by these that work is to be judged. The hard task is to discover these standards and then to find means of composition that can make them clear and dramatic.

For these reasons I trust in poetry that is thoroughly modeled, highly finished—but which strives for a spirit of spontaneity. Both formal verse and free verse can achieve these largest ends, though not, of course, by means of the same effects.

Fashions in poetry, whether passé or prevailing, hold but amusement for me, or at least an academic interest. I have only a naturalist's curiosity about different schools of poetry and lives of poets. The work itself is important: the line, the phrase, the word.

*  *  *

Fred Chappell's central poetic achievement is Midquest, the long poem that first appeared from 1975 to 1980 as four separate volumes—River, Bloodfire, Wind Mountain, and Earthsleep—each the size of a normal collection of poems. At the midpoint of his life, as Dante put it, the speaker looks at his past and present, considering especially his love for his wife Susan, the various personae he has tried on as he has become his own man, and the significance of place, family, friendship, music, and literature. The poem is autobiographical fiction, and so it is fair for the author to say that "Fred" is no more or less Fred Chappell than any of his other fictional characters (Chappell is also an excellent novelist).

Each section of Midquest contains eleven poems, and in its own way each volume recounts the same twenty-four hours in the author's life on the day of his thirty-fifth birthday. The most apparent tension in the poem is perhaps that between the speaker's rural Appalachian childhood and his urban, academic adulthood. It is not that the two worlds cannot connect but that they connect on so many levels, distant as they sometimes seem. The speaker's grandmother is a source of lore and inspiration, as is "a garrulous old gentleman" named Virgil Campbell, who in each of the volumes gets a section in which he presents some boisterous recollections. Over against these recollections of rural adventure and misadventure are poems exploring the origins and the persistence of the speaker's literary urges and ambitions. These are made with great delicacy and freedom from self-indulgence. Midquest is a poem celebrating the world most of us live in and the play of mind and language over it.

Midquest was preceded by The World between the Eyes, which appeared after Chappell had already published three novels. He has continued to publish both fiction and poetry, and increasingly the two genres seem to converse, as later novels recapitulate some of the scenes in Midquest. He has allowed himself some room for unusual experiments in later collections, however, beginning with Castle Tzingal, a sequence of soliloquies set in an impossibly remote and mythical principality fraught with alchemy, royal treachery, and lost love. Without the slightest insistence, the work edges toward being a parable for our threat-haunted time.

Source contains scenes more explicit in their author's consciousness of the trouble our technology portends, but it also moves deeply toward acceptance of death, especially in "Forever Mountain," a poignant farewell to the poet's father. This book is Chappell's seventh, but it is only his second to collect a group of poems written one at a time, in the manner of most collections of poetry. Furthermore, his eighth, First and Last Words, undertakes another experiment in making a sequence of related poems that are presented as forewords or afterwords to various works of literature. Some of the works, like Hardy's The Dynasts, do not come to mind in profuse detail, but Chappell treads with confidence that thin and unsteady line between making us think that we might go back to the originals one day and frustrating us because we need more familiarity with the works he writes about. First and Last Words comes as close to complete independence as any book of poems can, but it is unusually direct in its acknowledgment that poems are made, in part, from other poems.

Chappell's collection C gets its title from the Roman numeral for one hundred. The book contains one hundred short poems, mostly epigrams and translations of epigrams, that are remarkably supple and various in tone and form. In such an enterprise a certain unevenness might be more apparent than in a good collection of thirty poems, but there is an abundance of wit in this collection, as in all of Chappell's deeply humane and brilliantly crafted poetry.

—Henry Taylor

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Chappell, Fred

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