Gerard, Philip 1955-
GERARD, Philip 1955-
PERSONAL: Born April 7, 1955, in Wilmington, DE; son of Felix A. Sczubelek (a cost accountant) and Margaret Clementine Herel (a homemaker); married Kathleen Ann Johnson (a translator), June 3, 1989. Education: University of Delaware, B.A., 1977; University of Arizona, M.F.A., 1981. Hobbies and other interests: Acoustic fingerstyle guitar, running his dogs, sailing, the outdoors.
ADDRESSES: Home—6231 Tortoise Ln., Wilmington, NC 28409. Office—Department of English, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Wilmington, NC 28403. Agent—Jeffrey M. Kleinman, Esq., Graybill & English, LLC, 1875 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 712, Washington, D.C., 20009. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Arizona State University, Tempe, visiting assistant professor of English, 1981-82, writer-inresidence, 1983-85; Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL, assistant professor of English, 1986-89; University of North Carolina at Wilmington, associate professor of creative writing, 1989—, acting director of professional and creative writing, 1990-91, director, 1991—. Managing editor, North Carolina Humanities, 1993-94. Serves on faculty of writers workshops; writer-inresidence in numerous academic settings; member of academic and fellowship boards.
MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Bread Loaf scholar in fiction, 1982, fellow, 1987; Quarterly West novella competition finalist, 1986; Ernest Hemingway First Novel Prize nomination, 1986; Blumenthal Series winner, 1989; Emerging Artist grant from Arts Council of the Lower Cape Fear, 1991; University of North Carolina English Department Service Award, 1992-93, College of Arts and Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award, 1992, Chancellor's Excellence in Teaching Award, 1993;North Carolina Arts Council individual artist's fellowship, 1993; University of North Carolina board of Trustees Excellence in Teaching Award, 2001; Graduate Mentor Award, 2001.
Hatteras Light (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.
Brilliant Passage (nonfiction), Mystic Seaport Museum Press (Mystic, CT), 1989.
Cape Fear Rising (novel), John F. Blair (Winston-Salem, NC), 1994.
Desert Kill (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1994.
Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life, Story Press (Cincinnati, OH), 1996.
Writing a Book That Makes a Difference, Story Press (Cincinnati, OH), 2000.
(Editor, with Carolyn Forché) Writing Creative Nonfiction: Instruction and Insights from Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs, Story Press (Cincinnati, OH), 2001.
Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception (nonfiction), Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.
Author of television documentary scripts, including River Run: Down the Cape Fear to the Sea, Hong Kong: A Little England in the Eastern Seas, Hong Kong: An Absolute Money Machine, and Hong Kong: The Future of Freedom. Author and performer of radio essays for public radio. Contributor of stories and articles to periodicals, including Soundings East, Puerto Del Sol, New England Review, Bread Loaf Quarterly, Amherst Review, permafrost, Hayden's Ferry Review, Arts Journal, Crescent Review, Carolina Style, World & I, Associated Writing Programs Chronicle, and Hawaii Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Philip Gerard's debut novel, Hatteras Light, was nominated for the Ernest Hemingway First Novel Prize in 1986. According to Maurice C. York in North Carolina Libraries, Hatteras Light "received favorable reviews." Gerard's two subsequent novels, both published in 1994, received perhaps more widespread attention due to their subject matter. In Cape Fear Rising the author explores an historical incident that took place in Wilmington, North Carolina, where Gerard teaches at the local university. The story he relates in his novel—that of the 1898 uprising of white supremacists against an elected city government that included blacks, white Republicans, and other liberals—sparked animated discussions in Wilmington and throughout the surrounding area. Though Gerard made it clear that he took certain liberties with the facts in order to create better fiction, he did include the actual names of those men and women involved in the incident, causing descendants of those portrayed unfavorably to complain. As Pama Mitchell reported in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution: "'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,' says Walker Taylor III, a white Wilmington native whose grandfather plotted and profited from the 1898 reordering of the city's power structure. 'We've got to deal with the problems of 1994.'"
Despite some negative local publicity, the response from critics to Cape Fear Rising was overwhelmingly favorable. Paul Howle, reviewing the novel in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, hailed it as "an interesting story of an important event well told," and particularly observed that "the book's real protagonist is the riot itself, and it is here that Gerard shines." York noted that the author's "bedrock sense of place and knowledge of human character serve him well" in the novel; Phil Rubio in the Prism declared that "Gerard perfectly captures the contrasts, ironies and hypocrisies of turn-of-the-[twentieth-]century Wilmington."
Desert Kill, Gerard's taut novel about a psychotic serial killer in Arizona, also garnered much praise for its author. John Dillon explained in Mostly Murder that the book is "thrilling not only for its fast action, gory details, and hair-raising ending, but because it's also a stylistic tour de force. It's as if Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Harris [author of Silence of the Lambs] have teamed to write a short, nasty police procedural shamelessly designed to give you the creeps." Other reviewers lauded Desert Kill's well-delineated characters, which include investigator Paul Pope, his college professor nephew Roy, and Roy's wife, Eileen, who suffers the psychological aftermath of a brutal rape.
In his more recent work, Gerard has turned to the art of his craft, and penned books aimed at a target audience of would-be writers. In addition to writing the instruction manuals Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life and Writing a Book That Makes a Difference, he also coedited a book with poet Carolyn Forché. This book, Writing Creative Nonfiction, gathers information from over thirty writers and teachers who are part of the Associated Writing Programs. Each expert presents an aspect of writing, using his or her own work as an example.
Gerard returned to historical events with his 2002 book Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception. The book profiles a covert military unit whose story was hidden for fifty years. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was the only deception outfit ever created by the U.S. Army. Comprised of artists, sound technicians, designers, musicians, and electronic specialists, the outfit's job was to convince the Nazis of the existence of American units, in order to throw them off track. The troop's primary weapons were sound-effect machines, camouflage, and inflatable tanks. Gerard pieced the outfit's story together using memoirs, diaries, veteran recollections, and recently declassified archives. As Terry Teachout commented in his review of Secret Soldiers for Book, Gerard tells his fact-based story "straightforwardly and admiringly, with no shortage of vivid material." A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that the account offers "intriguing evidence of a unique and selfless service that resonates poignantly in today's crisis-filled world."
Gerard once told CA: "The more I write, the more writing becomes like reading—I finish a novel to find out what happens next, whether I'm reading it or writing it. I'm always anxious to make my story happen in somebody else's imagination. I write relentlessly, every day when I can manage it, except for interludes between long projects.
"The writers I admire are versatile and full of energy, trying new and daring things but always grabbing the reader by the collar and hauling him along with them: Tim O'Brien, Carolyn Forché, Martin Cruz Smith, Ron Hansen, Don DeLillo, Bob Reiss, Randall Kenan, and Gore Vidal.
"The themes I return to in my own writing again and again are community, the need for courage, the ethical lines we draw in our lives and when and why we are willing to step over them. When I am old and eloquent enough, I will write about the beautiful act of teaching, which at its best is an act of love.
"Lately, too, I have become very interested in the way stories are told out loud—in my essays for local and nationwide National Public Radio broadcast, I have tried to discover the possibilities of the spoken word.
"My wife, Kathleen A. Johnson, is an eloquent and well-published scholar of narrative in the French novel of the twentieth century, especially in the works of George Semprun, a Spaniard who writes in French and Spanish. She is my best and toughest critic, and the best judge of whether a story is working."
Gerard more recently added: "I spend a lot more time planning my writing now than in the past—thinking ideas through, making notes, daydreaming, pushing and probing the material. Then I write with great discipline—in all seasons, on holidays usually six or more hours per day when I am on a long project. Meantime I accumulate subjects and ideas in journals and files. I relentlessly revise—revision is the heart of good writing.
"Each book I write humbles me all over again before the demands of the subject and the craft. Writing uses your whole personality—all your virtues, and talents, and faults—maybe especially your faults. It is bottomless, which makes it satisfying to pursue.
"Every writer's favorite is the next book—that's where the passion is always directed. But Cape Fear Rising had an immediate effect on the community here. It caused African Americans and Whites to talk about their past; it provoked a healing discussion.
"I want to give the reader an adventure in words, take him someplace he never would have gotten to on his own. I want her to live in my world awhile and feel as if her experience has been enlarged. I want to share the excitement of my discovery and feel passionately hopeful about the possibilities of the human soul.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlanta Journal/Constitution, March 6, 1994, Paul Howle, review of Cape Fear Rising, pp. A3, N11.
Book, July-August, 2002, Terry Teachout, review of Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception, p. 77.
Booklist, April 1, 2001, Mary Carroll, review of Writing Creative Nonfiction, p. 1443; May 15, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of Secret Soldiers, p. 1570.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of Secret Soldiers, p. 468.
Library Journal, June 1, 2002, Denise S. Sticha, review of Writing Creative Nonfiction, p. 178; May 15, 2002, Jim Doyle, review of Secret Soldiers, p. 108.
Mostly Murder, July-August-September, 1994.
North Carolina Libraries, summer, 1994, p. 81.
Prism, April, 1994, p. 3.
Publishers Weekly, May 6, 2002, review of Secret Soldiers, p. 49.
Philip Gerard Home Page,http://www.philipgerard.com/ (September 9, 2002).