View Morgan's Curriculum Vitae
About Robert Morgan
I was born October 3, 1944 in Hendersonville, North Carolina and grew up on the family farm in the Green River valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a teenager I was interested in composing music as well as in writing poetry and fiction. But I was encouraged to study science in those "Beat the Russians" years after the first Sputnik was launched. After starting out in engineering and applied mathematics at North Carolina State University, I transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill and graduated in 1965 with a B.A. in English. In 1968 I received a Master of Fine Arts degree from UNC-Greensboro.
My first story was written in the sixth grade, on a day when the rest of the class visited the Biltmore House near Asheville. I did not have the three dollars for the trip, and rather than let me sit idle all day my teacher, Dean Ward, suggested I write a story describing how a man lost in the Canadian Rockies, without gun or knife, makes his way back to civilization All day I sat in the classroom by myself working at the details of my character's escape from the wilderness. I was so absorbed in my story I was surprised to find the other students had returned that afternoon.
My first writing teacher was the novelist Guy Owen at N.C. State. He encouraged me to write stories and poems about the place and people where I had grown up. One day he brought one of my stories to class, an account of visiting a great-grandmother in an old house in the mountains, and announced he had wept when he read the story. This was better praise than I had gotten in math classes, and I was hooked on writing.
My earliest publications were short stories, but I soon became caught up in the excitement about poetry in the late 1960s. I had a lot of encouragement from Jessie Rehder at UNC-Chapel Hill and Fred Chappell at UNC-Greensboro. Fred was the best reader of poetry I had ever met. I also received significant support from the editors of the magazine Lillabulero, William Matthews and Russell Banks, who published many of my poems and brought out my first book, Zirconia Poems, in 1969.
After coming to Cornell in 1971 I wrote only poems for ten years, and published three more books of poems, Land Diving, Trunk & Thicket, and Groundwork. But in 1980 I began writing fiction again, and published my first book of short stories, The Blue Valleys, in 1989. But I also published three more books of poetry, At the Edge of the Orchard Country, 1987, Sigodlin, 1990, and Green River: New and Selected Poems, 1991.
I received NEA grants in 1974, 1981, and 1987. In 1988 I was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, and a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship. In 1991 I was given the James G. Hanes Poetry Prize by the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and the North Carolina Literature Award.
In 1992 I published The Mountains Won't Remember Us, a volume of stories and a novella. Good Measure, a collection of essays and interviews on poetry, was published in 1993. In 1994 I published the novel The Hinterlands. My novel The Truest Pleasure was listed by Publisher's Weekly as one of the notable books of 1995 and was finalist for the Southern Book Critics Circle Award. My story "The Balm of Gilead Tree" was included in the 1997 O. Henry Awards anthology. A new novel, Gap Creek, was published published by Algonquin Books in 1999. It was selected for the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for 2000, and was chosen as Notable Book by the New York Times. Gap Creek was a selection of the Oprah Book Club and a New York Times bestseller. It was chosen by the Appalachian Writers Association as Book of the Year for 2000. The Balm of Gilead Tree: New and Selected Stories also appeared from Gnomon Press in 1999. LSU Press brought out Topsoil Road, a book of new poems, in 2000. A new novel called This Rock was published by Algonquin book in the fall of 2001.
Since 1992, I have been Kappa Alpha Professor of English at Cornell. In the spring of 1998 I was McGee Visiting Professor of Writing at Davidson College. I served as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Writing at Appalachian State University, Fall 2000. I also served as visiting writer at Furman University, winter 2002, and as Blackburn Distinguished Visiting Writer at Duke in Spring 2003. In spring 2004 I was at Duke again as a Visiting Professor. In spring 2005 I held the Whichard Chair as visiting writer at East Carolina University. In fall 2007 I was Rivers-Coffey Distinguished Visiting Writer at Appalachian State University. Also in 2007 I received an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Boone: A Biography, published by Algonquin Books in 2007, became a national bestseller, winner of the Kentucky Book Award, finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Biography, and was followed in 2011 by Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion, also from Algonquin Books, (Southern Book Award in Nonfiction) and Terroir: Poems from Penguin the same year. The novel The Road from Gap Creek appeared from Algonquin Books in 2013. Penguin published Dark Energy: New Poems in 2015. The novel about one instance of the Underground Railroad, Chasing the North Star, was published by Algonquin Books in 2016. As Rain Turns to Snow: New Stories came out from Broadstone Media in 2017. Most recently The Oratorio That Was Time: Fourteen Poems and Three Stories was brought out by Audubon Terrace Press in 2022, and In the Snowbird Mountains and Other Stories was published by Press53 in 2023. Also in 2023 Fallen Angel: The Life of Edgar Allan Poe was published by LSU Press.
Conversations With Robert Morgan, edited by Jesse Graves and Randall Wilhelm, was published by University Press of Mississippi in 2019. Robert Morgan: Essays on the Life and Writing, from McFarland Publishers, edited by Jesse Graves and Robert West, appeared in 2022. In 2023 West Virginia University Press brought out Community Across Time: Robert Morgan’s Words for Home, by Rebecca Godwin. Jesse Graves has edited contemporary critical response to my work in two volumes for the Gales series: Poetry Criticism. Vol. 13, 2019, and Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 495, 2022.
After fifty-one years of teaching writing and literature at Cornell University, I retired in 2022 as Kappa Alpha Professor of English Emeritus. I live in Ithaca, New York, but also maintain a house in Zirconia, North Carolina.