Morgan Writer Program Goes Out With a Bang

After 19 years and 20 campus visits by noted writers — including Joan Didion, Tim O’Brien and Alice Walker — the Morgan Writer-in-Residence program came to an end in March.

The residence program, established by Allen ’65 and Musette Morgan ’75 in 1993, brought distinguished writers to campus for one week to teach and speak with students and to share their works. Each writer also gave a Morgan Writer-in-Residence lecture, free and open to the public.

Susan Irons ’80 (MA,’01 PhD), director of special programs for the English and comparative literature department, said the Morgans had a specific vision for the program, which differentiated it from other residence programs.

“The vision of the program is to give our students and the larger university community access to significant writers of our time,” Irons said. “Other programs have writers in, but this one makes a real point to celebrate the writer, to celebrate the writer’s works and to celebrate the literary arts, and that is a qualitative difference of this program.”

The Morgans’ expendable gift also funded the lecture given by the Thomas Wolfe Prize Winner each fall. She said new funding would be necessary to continue the lecture.

As this year’s Morgan Writer-in-Residence, Athol Fugard, an award-winning South African playwright, spoke about the pivotal moments in his writing career to a full house at Paul Green Theatre March 21.

Creative writing Professor Bland Simpson ’70, who introduced Fugard at the lecture, said his speech was “a stunning display of brilliance, wit and stagecraft, start to finish. No one who was there that night will ever forget it.”

Irons said that having the opportunity to host Fugard, best known for his plays Blood Knot and The Train Driver, as well as his novel, Tsotsi — made into an Academy Award-winning film in 2005 — spoke to the caliber of the residence program.

“The Morgan Program has recognition among writers,” she said. “And when a program gains momentum among writers, it really has the ability to draw. We have been known as a good gig. We have developed a reputation as a very welcoming place for writers to come, as a community that affirms them and celebrates them, which has enhanced our ability to draw outstanding writers to our campus. And we don’t want to lose that.”

She said Fugard was the perfect writer to draw the curtain on the program — that when he was invited no one knew the 79-year-old playwright would make such a splash on the New York stage this year.

“He has four plays staged in New York this year, three at the Signature Theatre and one on Broadway. He has been reviewed glowingly in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. I mean, he is the playwright of the hour, and he was at Carolina for a week. I’d say that’s a grand finish.”

Irons said that she hopes other alumni will carry the vision of the Morgan Writer-in-Residence program forward.

“It’s someone else’s turn,” she said. “I hope people will see this as an opportunity to continue the momentum. This is a program that enhances the literary culture at our university, and we must find a way to keep it going.”

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