Robert Morgan, an influential American writer and one of Cornell’s most beloved professors, will be honored at a celebration on campus on the occasion of his 75th birthday.
MorganFest: A Robert Morgan Celebration, scheduled for Oct. 3, is free and open to the public. Presented by the Department of English and the Creative Writing Program, the daylong celebration will feature scholarly panels, a conversation with Morgan, a reading with alumni writers and other tributes.
Morgan is the Kappa Alpha Professor of English and an award-winning writer of bestselling historical novels, poetry, biography, American history, drama, short fiction and essays. He began teaching at Cornell in 1971, and generations of graduate and undergraduate students have taken his classes in American literature, modern poetry, poetry and fiction writing, and autobiography.
“Robert Morgan is, by almost any measure, the most prolific and wide-ranging author ever to teach at Cornell,” said Roger Gilbert, professor of English. “We are grateful for his inspiration as a colleague, and for this opportunity to honor his contributions to teaching and his profound influence on American letters.”
Much of Morgan’s writing draws on his upbringing in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the rich history and landscape of Appalachia. His works include the Oprah’s Book Club selection “Gap Creek” (1999); “Chasing the North Star” (2016), a tale of two runaway slaves’ journey to Ithaca, and seven other novels; “Boone” (2007), a biography of frontiersman Daniel Boone (also a national bestseller); and 14 books of poetry, most recently ”Dark Energy” (2015). He received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2007 and was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 2010.
Of his many literary awards, Morgan has collected two named for fellow North Carolinian Thomas Wolfe – no small coincidence, as the iconic Southern writers also share a birthday.
Panels during MorganFest – to be held in the Silver Birch Suite, 586 Statler Hall (a.k.a. the 5th Floor Tower Suite) – will include “On Morgan’s Poetry” at 9:30 a.m., moderated by Gilbert; and “On Morgan’s Prose” at 11:30 a.m., moderated by Paul Sawyer, professor of English.
“A Conversation with Robert Morgan,” at 2 p.m., will feature Alice Fulton, the Ann S. Bowers Professor of English at Cornell; Kenneth A. McClane, the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Literature Emeritus; and author Randall G. Kenan of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The moderator will be senior lecturer Stuart Davis.
The MorganFest Reading, at 4:30 p.m. in Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium, Klarman Hall, will feature Morgan and three of his former students.
Elizabeth Holmes, M.F.A. ’87, is a staff writer at Cornell; her three books of poetry include “Passing Worlds: Tahiti in the Era of Captain Cook.” Poet and nonfiction writer Lynn Powell, M.F.A. ’80, teaches at Oberlin College; her books include “Season of the Second Thought” and “Framing Innocence.” And author and artist Robert Schultz, M.F.A. ’76, M.A. ’78, Ph.D. ’81, has published three poetry collections, a novel, nonfiction and an art book. His artwork is in the collections of the U.S. Library of Congress, the University of Virginia and private collectors.
American Sign Language interpretation will be provided at the reading, which is part of the Fall 2019 Barbara & David Zalaznick Creative Writing Reading Series.
A free catered reception and book signing will follow at 6 p.m. in the English Lounge, 258 Goldwin Smith Hall. Titles by Morgan and the alumni authors are available for purchase at the Cornell Store before the signing.
In conjunction with these events, Cornell University Library has a special exhibition through Nov. 14, “Robert Morgan at 75: A Celebration,” featuring Morgan’s books, manuscripts, notebooks and family photographs spanning more than 120 years. The items are on display in Olin Library, next to the New and Noteworthy section; and in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections Reference Room in Kroch Library.