Author Philip Gerard, In Memoriam

I was saddened to learn today of the death of writer Philip Gerard, who died Nov. 7. The University of North Carolina–Wilmington, where Gerard taught creative writing, announced his death today (see their announcement, below).

Civil War folks from North Carolina will be familiar with Gerard’s The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina (UNC Press, 2019), which collected a series of weekly newspaper columns he wrote over the course of the Sesquicentennial about the Tar Heel State during the war. In 2019, I did a six-part conversation with Gerard for Emerging Civil War.

But Gerard’s impact on me goes far beyond his single (excellent) book about North Carolina in the Civil War. Years ago, when I was doing my Ph.D., Gerard’s book Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life (Waveland Press, 2004) served as the textbook. It was a brilliant text, and it helped me take my own writing—already deeply informed by my background as a journalist and creative writer—to a new level.

“Nonfiction is in the facts. Creative nonfiction is in the telling,” the Creative Nonfiction book jacket explains. “It reads like fiction, but stays loyal to the truth. Philip Gerard walks this fine line with confidence, style, and utter zeal, looking at the world with a reporter’s unflinching eye and offering it up with all the skill of a master storyteller.”

For me, good history is in the telling. It’s why writers like Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote have appealed to me and millions of others, and it’s why I always concentrate on making sure my own books are framed as well-crafted, well-told stories. It’s almost cliché to say: good writing brings history to life (I say “almost” cliché because I know an unfortunate number of historians who seem bent on ignoring this truism). Gerard’s The Last Battleground exemplifies this same approach to readable history.

I can’t recommend Creative Nonfiction highly enough for anyone interested in writing accessible history. It’s full of great tips and wonderful advice and inspiring examples. Gerard’s work itself was inspiring to me. I’m grateful for the impact he had on my work.

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9 Responses to Author Philip Gerard, In Memoriam

  1. Katy Berman says:

    I’ll be sure to get his book.

  2. Don Haven says:

    Who does your proofreading?

    • Chris Mackowski says:

      Proofreading for the book series is handled through Savas Beatie. For the blog, authors are responsible for proofreading their own pieces.

  3. Dr. Robert Houston says:

    Phil was my advisee and later my friend during and after his MFA days here at the U. of Arizona. He was a brilliant student and writer, full of energy, life, and warmth, and a faithful friend in the many years since. The world is a poorer place without him.

    • Chris Mackowski says:

      Thanks for sharing that story about him. I was glad to have had the chance to meet him.

      • Dr. Robert Houston says:

        In a long university teaching career, there are a very few students who become lifelong friends. Phil was one of those, and his death comes as a great shock to me and many fellow writers who knew him here in Arizona. He was multi-talented: fiction writer, historian, non-fiction writer, musician, sailor. And perhaps most important, faithful friend and family man. I had just written him on the day of his death about participating in this year’s book festival at the university as a tribute to his work. But his work alone now will stand as sufficient tribute to his many talents. I hope that those who do not yet know it will discover it for many years to come. Rest in peace, cherished student, old friend and colleague.

  4. Hugh De Mann says:

    Rest In Peace

  5. crb1022 says:

    Philip Gerard will be missed. I only saw him speak in person once, but he left an astounding impact on me. And I tuned in to his latest podcast on WHQR; so informative. May he rest in peace. And sending comfort to his family.

  6. It is going to be difficult to write about Philip. He was my teacher during my study in the MFA program at UNCW, and after my first year asked me to become his TA. I was for the next three. Philip’s humanity, his accessibility and honor and deep thinking and candor, made me want to be a better writer and better human. He managed to get me to write the hard stuff, the things I did not want to write. We became friends and stayed in touch the last 15 years. He recently blurbed my novel; I finished the galleys the day he died. Philip was an exacting writer who did whatever it took to bring the story to the page and to the reader. He believed that people are important, that our choices matter, and telling the story, however difficult that story might be to tell and to read or hear, could make the world a better place. I am grateful to have benefited from his excellent instruction and his warm, caring friendship. And I’m very glad he and Jill found each other. Fair winds, my friend. Until we meet again.

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