RiverRun To Show New Documentary On Award-Winning Greensboro Author Fred Chappell

Lee Smith, an award-winning novelist, describes Fred Chappell as “one of our most significant Southern authors, American writers, ever.”

Chappell is described by author Robert Morgan as “one of the most talented poets in the art of poetry” and “the greatest reader of poetry I have ever encountered.”

In the documentary “Fred Chappell: I Am One of You Forever,” titled after one of his novels, these well-known writers and others express their admiration for Chappell.

The one-hour film will be screened at the RiverRun International Film Festival in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and online. It will also be screened at the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival and on PBS in the fall.

“I’m incredibly thrilled that people across the state will learn more about Fred’s life story and come to understand how much he’s done to eliminate preconceptions of mountain people,” said director Michael Frierson.

Frierson concentrates on Chappell’s life, from his childhood in the mountain village of Canton through his 40 years teaching English at UNCG and founding one of the country’s first graduate creative writing programs.

“He’s a big deal in the state,” Frierson added. “He has done a lot to foster the writer community here.”

Chappell received several awards during his career.

He has published over 30 works of fiction, criticism, and poetry. The novel “I Am One of You Forever” is the most well-known. It is set in the hills of western North Carolina and follows the story of 10-year-old Jess and his family as they welcome him into the adult world, with its pleasures and tragedies, knowledge and mystery.

The Académie Française named his 1968 book “Dagon” the Best Foreign Book of the Year.

He was North Carolina’s poet laureate from 1997 to 2002.

Fred Chappell

His literary honors include the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry.

He is a co-winner of the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, together with Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, and E.E. Cummings.

Chappell, now 85, says that the prospect of doing a documentary makes him feel embarrassed.

“They had to send a delegation to gain my permission,” Chappell said over the phone.

“Michael did an outstanding job,” Chappell said. “I appreciate his doing it.” It doesn’t have as much whitewash as it should, but it’s fine.

“Of course, I can’t judge it because I’m the topic and can’t obtain an impartial picture of myself.” If I could, I’d make more money over time.”

Chappell laughed. “But I didn’t,” he clarified. “I believe they performed an excellent job.”

Frierson teaches filmmaking and editing at UNCG and has directed short films for Nickelodeon and other networks.

He recalls meeting Chappell in 1974 at The Pickwick, a writers’ hangout.

He heard a reading by Chappell in the early 1990s.

“It simply blew me away,” Frierson said of the experience. He thought Chappell was hilarious, and his poetry was both simple and profound.

“Right then, I thought I’d do a documentary on him,” Frierson added. “But then I had to put it down for maybe 20 years.”

The script was written by Ron Miller, a former News & Record book page editor. Kevin Wells, a UNCG professor, assisted with editing.

Chappell was born in 1936 to parents who were both college graduates and teachers. He grew up on a farm just outside the Haywood County town of Canton, in a community rich in storytelling and in a household that valued reading.

The film contains both old and fresh material.

Michael Frierson

“I realized I wanted to be a writer when I was 13 years old,” Chappell recalls in an older interview. I didn’t make the decision to write anything, learn how to write anything, or read anything.

“It took a long time for me to realize that you had to read a lot and write a lot.” “And suddenly you’re a writer.”

His poems depict the hardships of living on an Appalachian farm during the Great Depression.

Among these was the 1980 song “My Father Washes His Hands,” about his father and uncle having to bury the deceased mule Honey.

It was as if

Finishing a book on an unsatisfying note

The final chapter was neither pitiful nor tragic.

But it’s mortifyingly angrifyingly sad.

He was accepted to Duke University. He spent three years there “doing nothing but drinking, talking, and reading until they grew bored of me” and evicted him.

On August 2, 1959, at the age of 22, he married Susan Nicholls. They returned to Durham, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

He studied creative writing with William Blackburn, a famed educator. A scene from ABC’s “Meet the Professor” shows Blackburn conversing with previous pupils Chappell, Reynolds Price, William Styron, and Mac Hyman, the latter of whom is the author of the novel “No Time for Sergeants.”

He came to Woman’s College, now UNCG, in 1964.

“It took me 20 years to find out how to teach,” he remarked, “which is to stop up and listen.” He laughed. “I reasoned, ‘Well, that worked for Socrates.'” ‘Perhaps it will work for me.'”

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