Almost sixty years ago, students cutting across the Lawn would routinely encounter a dapper, gray-haired man absentmindedly filling his pipe on the way to his office in Alderman Library. It was William Faulkner, who came to UVA as writer-in-residence during the spring semesters of 1957 and 1958.
Although Faulkner didn’t teach any classes, he referred to himself with some justice as a “speaker-in-residence.” During his time at UVA, he gave two public addresses, read a dozen times from eight of his works, and answered more than 1,400 questions from audiences made up of students, faculty, and interested local citizens. Although Faulkner was personally rather unassuming, his presence nonetheless galvanized the literature and writing community at the University.
When Scott and Kathleen Kapnick, parents of UVA English major Katherine Kapnick (College ’13), were considering establishing a professorship, they decided to fund a writer-in-residence program modeled after Faulkner’s stay in Charlottesville. The Kapnick Distinguished Writer-in-Residence Program brings writers of international stature to Charlottesville for one semester to teach and engage with the UVA student body and, as with Faulkner, to leave a lasting mark on the literary community.
Acclaimed American novelist James Salter came to the University as the inaugural Kapnick Distinguished Writer-in-Residence in fall 2014, just before his death, June 19. During his career, Salter produced six novels, two short story collections, a memoir, and numerous screenplays. Along the way, he earned a collection of honors, including the PEN/Malamud Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the Rea Award for the Short Story. “He is a master,” said National Book Award-winner John Casey, who co-chairs the Kapnick committee.
In addition to teaching the MFA Workshop in Fiction, Salter gave a series of three lectures, titled The Art of Fiction, which enabled him to draw lines between his aesthetics, his life, and his writing. “It was spellbinding,” said Christopher Tilghman, professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program. “We had a huge turnout, both from the University and the Charlottesville community, which far exceeded anything we had seen before.” It is the English Department’s hope that the Kapnick Lectures will ultimately attain the stature of the Norton Lectures at Harvard, the nation’s preeminent series in the arts and humanities.
“We’ve demonstrated that having a writer of Jim’s standing come to the Grounds for an extended residency and become part of the community can be transformative and energizing,”Tilghman said.
Endowment Report 2015