Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Philip Gerard, 67

Philip Gerard passed away Nov. 7, 2022.

WILMINGTON — Philip Gerard left us on November 7, 2022. He was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on April 7, 1955. Though he lived in many places, including Newark, Delaware; Burlington, Vermont; Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona; and Lake Forest, Illinois, he called Wilmington, North Carolina, home for the past 33 years. He shared his life and his love and his incredibly big heart with his wife, Jill; their children, Ashley and Patrick Leahman; and his beloved Aussie, Daisy.

Philip cherished family. He is survived by his brothers, Stephen (Laura) Sczubelek and Paul Sczubelek; his sisters, Suzanne Herel, Kathryn Herel, and Sharon (Mike) Dutton, and numerous nieces and nephews: Oliver Sczubelek; Owen Sczubelek; Jason Dutton; Katie Dutton; David (Megan) Dutton; Mark Dutton; Amy (Alec) Lamancusa; Thomas (Anna) Dutton. His grand-nephews and niece brought him great joy: Liliana, Jon, Theo, and Martin Dutton.

His father, Felix Sczubelek, and mother, Margaret Herel Sczubelek, predeceased him.

Philip graduated from the University of Delaware with a BA in English and Anthropology and earned his MFA at the University of Arizona. He attended the Bread Loaf Writers Conference as a “waiter,” one of the most coveted scholarships granted. Bread Loaf has been called “the oldest and most prestigious writer’s conference in the country.” There, Philip made many life-long friendships.

After finishing his MFA, Philip joined the faculty at Arizona State University and taught fiction workshops to both undergraduate and graduate students; he also taught special topics classes focused on the American West. He left Arizona to take a position at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Through the years, he served the profession — as founding core faculty for the Low Residency MFA Program at Goucher College, faculty at Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Duke Writers Workshop, Wildacres Writers Workshop, Chautauqua Writers’ Center, and many others. 

Philip arrived at UNCW in 1989 and quickly turned a fledgling professional and creative writing curriculum into a well-organized, well-administered, and very popular concentration within the English major. As the track grew and other creative writing faculty were hired, he subsequently was the chief force behind the planning, establishment, and coordination of UNCW’s MFA program in 1996.

In 1999, he was instrumental in the establishment of creative writing as an independent department and in the 2000s served for seven years as department chair.

It is no exaggeration to say that Phillip was at the core of creative writing’s evolution at UNCW from the very beginning, and he continued to serve as a voice for progress throughout his life. His professional instincts were impeccable and his understanding of academic politics and policy vast. In truth, no one has contributed more to the UNCW’s Creative Writing Department than he did.

Philip published 16 books of fiction and creative nonfiction, two of which are seminal textbooks used in universities across the nation. Recent books include “North Carolina in the 1940s: The Decade of Transformation” and “The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina.” His novel “Cape Fear Rising,” a fictional account of the Wilmington, North Carolina’s white supremacist coup of 1898, was reissued in a special 25th anniversary edition with a foreword by Randall Kenan and an author’s afterword that addresses both the process of writing the novel and the backlash that followed its original publication.

His essay collection, “The Patron Saint of Dreams,” was awarded the 2012 North American Gold Medal for Essay and Creative Nonfiction by the Independent Publisher. He has also written 11 documentary television scripts, scores of radio essays, several magazine series, and an award-winning radio drama amassing a highly respected body of work that only a very driven and committed writer could manage. Philip’s work always took on ambitious topics–war, politics, racial injustice, history — contributing substantially to our literature both nationally and in North Carolina. 

He has appeared on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition,” CNN, and C-SPAN, and was a regular commentator on the History Channel, served on the board of directors of the North Carolina Civil War, Emancipation, & Reconstruction History Center. Philip called the work to make this history center a reality the most important he has done to address the challenges of our national history.

With his wife, Jill, he co-edited “Chautauqua,” the literary journal of Chautauqua Institution, NY. 

A talented musician and songwriter, Philip played guitar, banjo, pedal steel guitar, hammered dulcimer, bodhran, piano, and harmonica. He wrote songs — and taught songwriting. His CD “American Anthem” was recorded and produced by Jeff Reid—with the help of many of his musician friends. Every Saturday afternoon, you could find Philip in his music studio playing and practicing — and having so much fun. 

His honors include the Chancellor’s Medal for Excellence in Teaching and the Board of Trustees Teaching Award. In 2019, he was awarded the North Carolina Award for Literature, which is the highest civilian honor conferred by the state. 

Committed to his community, Philip supported many local agencies. One that was near to his heart is the Cameron Art Museum. An advocate for the arts, for equity, and for social justice, he was an early advisor for the “Boundless” project commemorating the United States Colored Troops at CAM. Here are Philip’s own words after spending a weekend evening at CAM for the unveiling of “Boundless”:

“Seeing the 11 figures in the silvered light was like watching a squad of ghost soldiers advancing out of the darkness of the piney woods–very moving and surreal, a moment in which those long-dead infantrymen came to life again on the same ground where they fought so bravely for their own freedom and that of the other four million enslaved people.” 

He was active with the Cape Fear River Watch and a tireless advocate for the river and related environs. He championed and supported WHQR Public Radio — his history with the radio station is long. His stories of pledge drives and radio shows and holiday shorts have been shared with so many. He served the North Carolina Arts Council at the state level and was instrumental in the establishment of the Wilmington arts council.

Philip was his wife Jill’s rock and compass. His good-natured and easy manner brought joy into every day. He loved to do puzzles in the morning and he played music every day. Some nights he would “sing me,” which meant a private concert for Jill. Every evening, they shared a drink and talked about their day, about the world, about their hopes and dreams. 

He took care of the house and built things and repaired things and enjoyed those tasks. 

For years and years, they sailed. Philip would hoist the sails and settle back with his foot on the wheel, a cap shading his eyes — and he loved it. He taught Jill about wind and currents and how to read the clouds. They loved to travel and explore new places— looking for the local joints, the music pubs, the river trails. 

He was humble and wide open and friendly.

He was Jill’s love, and she, his.

It is his friends’ and family’s hope to establish a legacy that would please him. In lieu of flowers or other memorials, please give to http://giving.uncw.edu/gerard. The money will be used to fund a scholarship for students in the UNCW Creative Writing program. 

A celebration of life is planned for Philip Gerard at Cameron Art Museum on Dec. 10, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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