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Philip Gerard: Novelist of History

Friday from the Archives: “The Novelist of History: Using the Techniques of Fiction to Illuminate the Past” by Philip Gerard in NCLR 2015

NCLR lost a longtime friend, mentor, writer, and editorial partner when author and professor Philip Gerard passed away in early November.

Out of the many pieces NCLR published by and about Gerard and his work, “The Novelist of History” is perhaps more timely today than when we first published it in 2015. As schools from every level from kindergarten through doctoral programs gut the humanities content offered, this essay reminds us just how important that content, particularly our own history, is. “Thus I think history is just as important as mathematics or science or English – and arguably more so. For without a deep and broad understanding of our own history, we cannot be a nation anymore,” Gerard wrote.

Gerard walks the reader through his process of crafting the award-winning historical novel Cape Fear Rising, about the 1898 Wilmington Race Riots. He muses, “My job – the job of what I call the Novelist of History – is at once simpler and harder. It is to tell a compelling human story, born of true facts, that not only engages the reader emotionally but also sharpens or even awakens an interest in the history that underpins the story.” Surely Gerard did this for the hundreds of students who passed through his classrooms and his MFA Creative Writing program at UNC Wilmington.

NCLR published an excerpt from Cape Fear Rising in 1994 and “Flexible Flyer,” a short story in 2005. To read, request from your library’s ProQuest service or order the back issues from our online store.

Writer, Editor, Professor Philip Gerard. Photo courtesy Ashley Leahman.