Fred Davis Chappell was born in Canton, North Carolina, on May 28, 1936, and was raised on his grandparents’ farm in the mountains outside Asheville. He attended Canton High School and enrolled at Duke University but was expelled at the beginning of his junior year for misconduct. In 1959, he married his high school sweetheart, Susan Nicholls, and the following year their son Heath was born. He returned to Duke to finish his studies and graduated with a B.A. in English in 1961.
Chappell enrolled in the graduate English program at Duke on a three-year National Defense Education Act fellowship and was completing his master’s thesis when he was approached by a New York publisher to write a novel. It Is Time, Lord, which he wrote in six weeks, was published in 1963. The following year he published his first short story in The Saturday Evening Post and received his M.A. Chappell began teaching English at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, a position he was offered while still a graduate student at Duke. The World Between the Eyes, the first of more than a dozen volumes of his poetry, was published in 1971.