Morgan, Robert 1944- (Robert R. Morgan)
Morgan, Robert 1944- (Robert R. Morgan)
Born October 3, 1944, in Hendersonville, NC; son of Clyde R. (a farmer) and Fannie Morgan; married Nancy Bullock, August 6, 1965; children: Benjamin Ray, Laurel Keith, Nancy Kathryn. Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A., 1965; University of North Carolina at Greensboro, M.F.A., 1968.
Writer, poet, and educator. University of North Carolina at Greensboro, teaching assistant, 1967-68; Salem College, Winston-Salem, NC, instructor in English, 1968-69; farmer, housepainter, and writer in Hendersonville, NC, 1969-71; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, lecturer, 1971-73, assistant professor, 1973-78, associate professor, 1978-84, professor of English, 1984-92, Kappa Alpha Professor of English, 1992—, creative writing committee member, 1971—, curriculum committee, 1975-78, director of undergraduate studies, 1980-81, 1984-85, chair of curriculum committee, 1980-81, 1984-85, chair of creative writing committee, 1982, acting chair of department, 1985, 1986-87.
McGee Visiting Writer, Davidson College, 1998; Distinguished Visiting Professor of Writing, Appalachian State University, 2000; visiting writer, Furman University, 2002; Blackburn Visiting Writer, Duke University, 2003, visiting professor, 2004; visiting writer, Whichard Chair, East Carolina University, 2005.
Served on various committees, including Corson-Bishop Prize committee, 1974-81, Academy of American Poets Prize committee, 1978—, and Sugarman Prize committee, 1981-83.
Has given poetry readings at various colleges and universities, including University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wells University, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Carson-Newman University, Louisiana State University, Washington University, Furman University, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Emory University, Cornell University, Wesleyan University, State University of New York at Binghamton, Duke University, Stanford University, and Oxford University.
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grants, 1968, 1974, 1982, and 1987; Southern Poetry Review Prize, 1975; Eunice Tietjens Prize for poetry, 1979; fellowship, New York Foundation for the Arts, 1986; Hawthornden fellow in poetry, International Writers Retreat, Hawthornden Castle, Scotland, 1986; Fiction Prize, Jacaranda Review, 1988; Guggenheim fellowship, 1988-89; Amon Liner Prize, Greensboro Review, 1989; fellowship, Bellagio Conference Center, 1989; James G. Hanes Poetry Prize, Fellowship of Southern Writers, 1991; North Carolina Award in Literature, 1991; fellow, Cornell Society for the Humanities, 1992; notable book citation, New York Times, for The Truest Pleasure; book of the year citation, Association of Appalachian Writers, notable book citation, New York Times, and Southern Books Critics Circle Award, all 2000, all for Gap Creek; R. Hunt Parker Award, North Carolina Literary and Historical Association, 2007; Academy Award in Literature, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2007.
Zirconia Poems (also see below), Lillabulero Press (Northwood Narrows, NH), 1969.
Red Owl (poems; also below), Norton (New York, NY), 1972.
Land Diving (poems; also see below), Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1976.
Trunk and Thicket (poems; also see below), L'Epervier (Seattle, WA), 1978.
Groundwork (poems; also see below), Gnomon (Frankfort, KY), 1979.
Bronze Age: Poems (also see below), Iron Mountain (Emory, VA), 1981.
At the Edge of the Orchard Country (poems, also see below), Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1987.
Sigodlin: Poems (also see below), Wesleyan University Press, 1990.
Green River: New and Selected Poems (contains selections from Zirconia Poems, Red Owl, Land Diving, Trunk and Thicket, Groundwork, Bronze Age: Poems, At the Edge of the Orchard Country, and Sigodlin: Poems), Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1991.
Wild Peavines: New Poems, Gnomon (Frankfort, KY), 1996.
Topsoil Road: Poems, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 2000.
The Strange Attractor: New and Selected Poems (contains selections from Zirconia Poems, Red Owl, Land Diving, Trunk and Thicket, and Groundwork), Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 2004.
The Blue Valleys: A Collection of Stories, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 1989.
The Mountains Won't Remember Us, Peachtree Publishers (Atlanta, GA), 1992.
The Balm of Gilead Tree and Other Stories, Gnomon (Frankfort, KY), 1999.
The Hinterlands: A Mountain Tale in Three Parts, Algonquin (Chapel Hill, NC), 1994.
The Truest Pleasure, Algonquin (Chapel Hill, NC), 1995.
Gap Creek, Algonquin (Chapel Hill, NC), 1999.
This Rock, Algonquin (Chapel Hill, NC), 2001.
Brave Enemies: A Novel of the American Revolution, Algonquin (Chapel Hill, NC), 2003.
The Voice in the Crosshairs (chapbook), Angelfish Press (Ithaca, NY), 1971.
Good Measure: Essays, Interviews, and Notes on Poetry, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1993.
Boone: A Biography, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2007.
Editor of Epoch magazine, 1971-75. Contributor to various anthologies, including The Generation of Two Thousand: Contemporary American Poets, edited by William Heyen, Ontario Review Press, 1984; Contemporary Southern Poets, A Geography of Poets, New Directions in Prose and Poetry 26, New Directions in Prose and Poetry 30, Poet's Choice, The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, Strong Measures, Western Wind, Bedford Introduction to Literature, Bedford Introduction to Poetry, Approaching Poetry, and The Book of Luminous Things.
His poems and essays have appeared in periodicals, including American Poetry Review, American Scholar, Antaeus, Atlantic, Epoch magazine, Kenyon Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Missouri Review, Nation, Paris Review, Parnassus, Poetry, TriQuarterly, and Virginia Quarterly Review.
Robert Morgan's poetry and fiction explore life in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The author grew up there on his family's farm, and his rich experiences reflected in his prose give a vivid picture of everyday life in the punishing terrain of Appalachia. His characters are resourceful, philosophical, and hardworking. Some of Morgan's work is based on family anecdotes—stories handed down from his Welsh ancestors who first settled in North Carolina generations before. According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, he "aims for the tone of an Appalachian oral history," concentrating particularly on the poor, without romanticizing their lives or condescending to their plight. As Dwight Garner noted in the New York Times Book Review, Morgan's "stripped-down and almost primitive sentences burn with the raw, lonesome pathos of Hank Williams's best songs. Even better, there's not a hint of liberal sanctimony in his work; his plain people stubbornly refuse to become archetypes." A Contemporary Southern Writers contributor observed: "In a period when disconnection, disaffection, and disaffiliation seem the coin of the poetry realm, it is a pleasure to read a poet as connected as Robert Morgan." The same contributor noted: "Together with his fine sense of craft, his allegiance to his native area gives his writing a quiet power and universality."
Morgan began writing fiction and poetry in college, and the first seven books he published were all poetry collections. In his verse, Morgan explores Appalachian life through the unseen history of tangible items as well as the eccentric or haunting tales of his kin. The author told Contemporary Southern Writers: "My ideal was to write poetry accessible to everyone, but tough enough, and rich enough, to reveal something on each successive reading. That is an ideal I am still working toward." The Contemporary Southern Writers contributor maintained that indeed, in many of his poems, Morgan achieves "a Southern lushness of detail tempered by what one might ordinarily consider a Midwestern reserve and plainness of language." The contributor added: "It is hard to think of a contemporary American poet with a deeper sense of family ties, customs, and lore than Morgan. The ordinary, everyday rural objects he looks upon constantly reveal traces and residues of former lives." A contributor to the Dictionary of Literary Biography called Morgan "one of the most talented and distinct spokesmen" for Appalachia, its people, and its culture. The contributor went on to describe Morgan as "one of the most prolific, technically accomplished, and consistently interesting poets in contemporary American writing. He is a regionalist in the widest sense of the term, drawing, as many writers have done, on the specific culture and energies of his region as an alternative response both to the breakdown of traditional social, religious, and moral systems in Western culture and to the various solutions to that breakdown that poets and writers have proposed."
Morgan started writing novels rather late in his life, but his efforts have been embraced by many readers and book reviewers. His first novel, The Hinterlands: A Mountain Tale in Three Parts, was published when he was about fifty years old. It reveals the lives of several generations of a mountain family, beginning with pioneer Petal Richards, who recalls settling in the wilderness in 1772. Petal's descendants take up the narrative in succeeding sections, describing how they dreamed, and then built, passable roads in the region. New York Times Book Review reviewer Thomas H. Cook wrote: "Though the story is told by three different members of the Richards clan, the voices remain, as befits the depth of their blood relations, truly kindred, united not only by a common experience but also by the intensely stoical philosophy it has produced." The family survives on its instinct for work and endurance, on a firm belief that to give in to spiritual or physical exhaustion is to die. According to Cook: "Such an uncompromising call for fortitude and self-reliance is no longer in fashion, and few would dare offer it to the present generation. But as suggested by this wise, eloquent and at last sobering portrayal of our country's founding generations, such hard truths might yet prove able to guide as well as dignify a life, a family, a nation." In Booklist, Theresa Ducato described The Hinterlands as "a richly textured family saga" that "forebodes … the ecological changes that civilization has brought to our wilderness."
Religious ecstasy and its effect on a marriage is the subject of Morgan's novel The Truest Pleasure. The story is narrated by Virginia Peace Powell, a Pentecostal Christian who speaks in tongues, but whose faith does not necessarily bring her solace in times of trial. Virginia details the events of her life, particularly her marriage to Tom Powell, a pragmatic working man who takes a dim view of the frenzied camp meetings. "Eloquent, wise and heartbreaking, Morgan's second novel … offers insightful truths about family life and marital relationships," declared a Publishers Weekly contributor. "Morgan's touch in this novel is deft and assured. Rarely has the experience of religious ecstasy been described with such poetic intensity and lack of condescension." Booklist correspondent George Needham praised the author, suggesting that he "has succeeded in a most difficult endeavor, writing a thoroughly entertaining and even moving novel about a time, place, and people that most contemporary Americans know only as cartoons."
The novel Gap Creek propelled Morgan onto the best-seller lists when it was chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection by television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey in early 2000. The book follows the dire fortunes of Julie Harmon Richards, a poor Appalachian woman who suffers a series of disasters. After witnessing the agonized deaths of her baby brother and her father, Julie marries Hank Richards and moves with him to Gap Creek in South Carolina. Their lives are threatened by fire, flood, and famine—and their meager savings are stolen by con artists—as Julie narrates a tale of drudgery and privation. According to Dwight Garner in the New York Times Book Review, Gap Creek "contains more raw information about how to scratch together an existence on an isolated, electricity-free farm than all the back issues of Country Living combined." Garner also wrote: "Morgan is among the relatively few American writers who write about work knowledgeably, and as if it really matters; you don't begrudge him the 10 or so pages he'll spend describing, for example, how to kill a pig and conserve every last ounce of the fat and meat, right down to the brains." Garner observed that, as the young couple meet crisis after crisis, "the sense of doom can be overwhelming; you begin to feel, as you sometimes do when reading Cormac McCarthy's or Harry Crews's early novels, that the author has been typing with blood on his hands and a good deal of it has rubbed off onto your shirtsleeves." A Publishers Weekly contributor commended Gap Creek as "another compassionate tale of poor people enduring brutal working lives and harsh deprivations with stoic dignity," and added that the work is "a quiet tale told with simplicity and tenderness."
Continuing the story of the Powell family, started in The Truest Pleasures and maintained, to some extent, in Gap Creek, Morgan wrote This Rock. Set in 1920s Appalachia, This Rock tells the story of brothers Moody and Muir Powell, who seem to embody the sibling rivalry of biblical figures Cain and Abel. The story is narrated by Muir, the younger brother and mother's favorite, as he searches for his calling and his brother's acceptance. After his first failed attempt at preaching, Muir sets off on his own, but after several efforts, returns home and discovers that his true calling is to build his own church. "Perhaps I should have known from the title that Robert Morgan's new novel is about faith," wrote America contributor Emilie Griffin, continuing: "Before I could reflect on the title and try to puzzle out a reference point for it, I was caught up in the story. Morgan is like that. You leaf through a page or two and suddenly the narrative has swept you away." Rebecca Sturm Kelm, a contributor to Library Journal, wrote: "Not a lightweight bildungsroman, this novel instead illuminates the painful movement from boy to man." A contributor to Publishers Weekly called This Rock "an entirely pleasant read and a testimony to the power of faith and integrity in the face of life's severest hardships," and Joanne Wilkinson, writing in Booklist, said that "Morgan delivers a surprisingly compelling narrative."
Brave Enemies: A Novel of the American Revolution is again set in the mountains of North Carolina, during the American Revolutionary War era. The story concerns Josie Summers, a sixteen-year-old mountain girl forced to flee her abusive stepfather. Disguising herself as a boy, she seeks refuge with a kindly itinerant preacher, Reverend John Trethman. She lives with him for some time before he discovers her true gender. After this occurs, they secretly marry, while Josie continues to maintain her public identity as a male. John is pressed into service by the British Army under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, known as a particularly brutal warrior. Though pregnant, Josie has still managed to continue her public life as a man, which leads to her service in the South Carolina militia. Both John and Josie endure great hardships and see terrible scenes of war before they are reunited. According to Margaret Flanagan in Booklist: "The homespun dialogue and understated narrative authenticate this heartrending period piece." Ann Fleury, a reviewer for Library Journal, noted that Morgan's poetic background is much in evidence throughout the novel, both in "the graceful language and luminous description of the countryside and in the introspectiveness and humanity of his characters." A Publishers Weekly contributor also recommended the book, stating: "With tremendous narrative pace, a meticulous eye for colorful detail and a tight grasp of historical setting and military action," the author offers readers "a rousing and affecting tale of the American Revolution."
Morgan turns his attention to nonfiction with his 2007 book about an American folk hero and legend. Boone: A Biography, which Library Journal contributor Nathan E. Bender called "beautifully written," focuses on separating the man from the myth in regard to Daniel Boone. In the process, Morgan also considers the various factors that motivated Boone, including his Quaker background.
Steve Weinberg, in a review for the Seattle Times, commented on Morgan's origins of interest in Boone, noting: "Morgan's father found frontiersman … Boone fascinating, and sometimes quoted his words to [Morgan]. Furthermore, [Morgan] developed the impression that a blood relationship might exist, given that Boone's mother carried the birth name of Sarah Morgan." Weinberg went on to explain that Morgan's interest in the frontier life and Boone further grew while he was researching for his novel Brave Enemies.
Although several biographies have been written about Boone, which the author duly notes in his book, Morgan sets out to correct some of the numerous falsehoods that have been fostered concerning Boone. For example, Morgan points out that Boone did not discover the Cumberland Gap, nor was he a founder of Kentucky. However, as Morgan chronicles Boone's life, he emphasizes the man's numerous real-life accomplishments, including his contribution to French and Indian War and his deeds during the American Revolutionary War.
"Many historical figures are more interesting in reality than in myth," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. "Daniel Boone was one of them." Jay Freeman, in a Booklist review, commented: "This outstanding biography will be ideal for general readers."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 120: American Poets since World War II, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Heyen, William, editor, The Generation of Two Thousand: Contemporary American Poets, Ontario Review Press (New York, NY), 1984.
America, October 15, 2001, Emilie Griffin, "Restless in Appalachia," review of This Rock, p. 38.
Booklist, April 1, 1994, Theresa Ducato, review of The Hinterlands: A Mountain Tale in Three Parts, p. 1424; September 1, 1995, George Needham, review of The Truest Pleasure, p. 41; September 1, 1999, Nancy Pearl, review of Gap Creek, p. 69; June 1, 2000, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Gap Creek, p. 1850; July, 2001, Joanne Wilkinson, review of This Rock, p. 1952; August, 2003, Margaret Flanagan, review of Brave Enemies: A Novel of the American Revolution, p. 1956; July 1, 2007, Jay Freeman, review of Boone: A Biography, p. 23.
Carolina Quarterly, spring-summer, 2004, Tessa Joseph, "‘The Authentic Reader’: An Interview with Robert Morgan," p. 68.
Entertainment Weekly, October 19, 2001, review of This Rock, p. 76; October 26, 2007, Josh Rottenberg, review of Boone, p. 73.
Houston Chronicle, December 30, 2001, Sharan Gibson, review of This Rock, p. 21.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2001, review of This Rock, p. 1057.
Library Journal, September 1, 1999, Ann. H. Fisher, review of Gap Creek, p. 234; October 1, 2000, John Hiett, review of Gap Creek, p. 165; September 15, 2001, Rebecca Sturm Kelm, review of This Rock, p. 114; August, 2003, Ann Fleury, review of Brave Enemies, p. 133; July 1, 2007, Nathan E. Bender, review of Boone, p. 99.
New York Times Book Review, December 10, 1989, Joanne Kennedy, review of The Blue Valleys: A Collection of Stories, p. 32; July 24, 1994, Thomas H. Cook, review of The Hinterlands, p. 12; October 10, 1999, Dwight Garner, review of Gap Creek, p. 10; January 30, 2000, David L. Ulin, review of The Balm of Gilead Tree and Other Stories, p. 23; October 14, 2001, Katharine Whittemore, review of This Rock, p. 21; January 5, 2003, Scott Veale, review of This Rock, p. 16.
Poetry, January, 1988, Alice Fulton, review of At the Edge of the Orchard Country, p. 370; September, 1991, Ben Howard, review of Sigodlin: Poems, p. 345; July, 1992, review of Green River: New and Selected Poems, p. 219.
Publishers Weekly, April 27, 1992, review of The Mountains Won't Remember Us, p. 253; March 7, 1994, review of The Hinterlands, p. 55; July 24, 1995, review of The Truest Pleasure, p. 48; August 23, 1999, review of Gap Creek, p. 46; September 13, 1999, review of The Balm of Gilead Tree and Other Stories, p. 61; August 27, 2001, review of This Rock, p. 56; June 2, 2003, review of Brave Enemies, p. 29; May 28, 2007, review of Boone, p. 45.
Reference & Research Book News, February, 2008, review of Boone.
School Library Journal, April, 2002, Francisca Goldsmith, review of This Rock, p. 186.
Seattle Times, December 21, 2007, Steve Weinberg, "A Poetic, Pioneering Look at Daniel Boone," review of Boone.
South Carolina Review, spring, 2001, Skip Eisiminger, review of Topsoil Road: Poems, p. 181.
Southern Living, July, 1994, Carolanne Griffith-Roberts, review of The Hinterlands, p. 36.
Southern Quarterly, summer, 2000, Harriette Buchanan, review of The Balm of Gilead Tree and Other Stories, p. 145.
Tennessean (Nashville, TN), October 21, 2001, Rick Tamble, review of This Rock, p. 42.
Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 2001, review of Topsoil Road, p. 147.
Robert Morgan Home Page,http://www.robert-morgan.com (July 29, 2008).