Fred Chappell Biography


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Fred Davis Chappell was born in Canton, North Carolina, in the heart of the Appalachians. His parents, James Taylor “J. T.” Chappell and Anne Davis Chappell, were teachers as well as farmers, and the poet grew up reading constantly and writing poetry. In 1954, he entered Duke University, where he spent his first two years drinking beer, writing, and reading on his own, until he was suspended at the start of his junior year. He returned home to the mountains where he worked in a furniture and supply store and married Susan Nicholls, who plays a central role in many of his poems. In 1959, he resumed study at Duke, where he would later receive his B.A. and M.A. in English.

While at Duke, he became friends with many fine writers, including Reynolds Price and James Applewhite, who would have a major impact on his future. He wrote an eleven-hundred page compendium to the writings of Samuel Johnson for his master’s thesis. By the time he received his M.A. in 1964, he had already published his first novel, and upon graduation, he was offered a job teaching English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he would remain until his retirement in 2004. Soon after his arrival at the university, Randall Jarrell, one of the major writers in the program, died, and as a result, Chappell quickly became central to the writing program. Chappell has lived in North Carolina all his life, except for one year (1967-1968), which he, his wife, and his son Heath spent in Florence, Italy, on a Rockefeller Foundation grant.