Appalachian Professor Receives Arts Fellowship


The Appalachian Online

Tommy Culkin

Abigail DeWitt, a creative writing professor at Appalachian State University, was recently one of 18 recipients awarded a North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship.

DeWitt received her Bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard University, and her Master’s of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa.

The fellowship gives artists $10,000 to support the creation and creative development of an upcoming

DeWitt said she plans to use the money to travel to France to do research for her upcoming collection of short stories titled “The Sex Appeal of the French and Other Stories.”

“What I need is to spend time just wandering streets, smelling smells, and just doing things that I do when I’m in France, but doing them with the intention in my work,” DeWitt said. “A lot of it is just gathering sensory information.”

Entrants were required to submit 25 pages of their writing and DeWitt submitted a retelling of her first published work, a short story titled “The Painter’s Arrest.” The newer version, now titled “The Jew and the German” will appear in her upcoming collection of short stories.

The story is about a Jewish painter, based on DeWitt’s uncle, and the S.S. officer who came to arrest him.

DeWitt said her writing is heavily influenced by the oral stories her mother would tell about the experiences of being a German Jew during World War II.

“I really grew up steeped in World War II stories because that’s sort of all my mother’s generation ever talked about,” DeWitt said. “And my mother is a really good storyteller, and so actually as a kid I loved listening to her stories even though they were terrible and awful.”

DeWitt tentatively expects to have the collection finished by May 2016.

According to students, DeWitt also possesses a great passion for teaching.

“She’s an advocate for her students and works very hard to encourage them,” said Audrey Fields, a senior English major who currently takes an advanced fiction writing class with DeWitt. “She offers constructive encouragement as well as constructive criticism.”

Fields said DeWitt left an indelible mark on her as a writer.

Fields said DeWitt’s class changed the way she approaches writing.

“Within relationships I view things differently,” she said. “A lot of what she teaches and talks about is being aware and being observant. I pay more attention to people, listen to what they say, how they move, [and] I pay more attention to nature.”

DeWitt said teaching is an important complement to her as a writer and as a person.

“I love teaching,” DeWitt said. “I get a lot out of it and am always inspired by my students. They are capable of some really great writing, and I’m always excited by our discussions. Somebody once said, ‘you teach best what you most need to learn,’ and I think what I most need to learn is how to write.”

Story by Tommy Culkin, News Reporter