UNCG Campus Weekly

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With Michael Parker, the stories keep coming

UNCG creative writing professor Michael Parker is one of the foremost voices in contemporary Southern literature. With six novels and three collections of short stories under his belt, and a new novel forthcoming, it’s full speed ahead.

His short story “Stop ‘n’ Go” was selected for inclusion in the 2018 Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories anthology, an annual collection of the top twenty stories among the thousands published in the past year by U.S. and Canadian magazines.

The O. Henry Prize Stories anthology has been an American literary institution since 1919, and in 2009 was renamed to reflect the partnership with PEN American Center. This was Parker’s third time winning an O. Henry Prize and the story was the second that came from his most recent book, “Everything Then and Since,” published last year by Bull City Press.

“My feeling about those stories was that they would not be to everyone’s taste, and that if ten people read the book, I’d be happy,” said Parker. “I was thrilled to have published the story in the New England Review, and doubly thrilled to have it appear again in the O. Henry.”

But, if not to everyone’s tastes, the stories are certainly to a lot of people’s tastes. The collection of 23 micro-stories was a “staff pick” of the Paris Review and received enthusiastic praise in a number of other periodicals. Each story displays Parker’s unforgettable humor, woven between the small but poignant moments that reveal the rich internal lives of his characters, most of them firmly rooted in the rural South.

Parker has received fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Hobson Award for Arts and Letters and the North Carolina Award for Literature. His work has been anthologized in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and New Stories from the South. Recently, he spoke on a panel with writer Lee Smith at the Greensboro Bound literary festival.

Parker came to teach in UNCG’s MFA Creative Writing Program in 1992 and in 2015 was honored with the first Vacc Distinguished Professorship, a recognition for a faculty member with a record of outstanding accomplishment as a teacher, scholar or practitioner. The appointment has allowed him to bring in high-profile visiting writers and to create writing residency opportunities for graduate students.

“His work and the creative writing program are an exemplar of excellence at UNCG,” said Provost Dana Dunn.

And the proof’s in the pudding; among the many other accomplishments of his former graduate students, Kelly Link had a story in the 2013 Pen / O. Henry Prize Story anthology and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2017.
Parker deeply values the opportunity to work with students in the MFA program, which was one of the first in the nation.

“Our students keep in touch, with us and with each other, and we’re always hearing news of their success in publishing,” he says. “The MFA degree takes only two years to achieve, but it lasts a lifetime.”

Michael Parker’s newest novel, “Prairie Fever,” will be published by Algonquin Books in 2019.

By Susan Kirby-Smith