Alumnus writes of Appalachian dragons and a gator-man

September 6, 2012
By Christine Urbowicz

NC State alumnus Andy Duncan ‘95 never planned on becoming a writer when he was a child.

If he had been asked to fast forward to his life now, Duncan would have never believed he would be an award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer, the winner of two World Fantasy Awards or the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award recipient for best science fiction story of the year.

“I was never serious about writing,” Duncan said in a recent interview by email. “But I was always writing something. I started writing homemade comic books when I was a kid, and in high school I wrote parodies of the novels that were assigned in class.”

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During his undergraduate years at the University of South Carolina, Duncan took fiction-writing classes but became interested in journalism. After graduation, he pursued a career in newspapers for a number of years.

It wasn’t until he purchased his first home computer that Duncan began to realize he wanted to write stories and become a published author.

“When I bought my first computer the World Wide Web wasn’t invented yet, but I had to do something with it,” Duncan says. “So I started typing, and the typing turned into personal letters, then memoirs, then plays, then fiction.”

Duncan decided to quit his full-time position as a journalist and came to NC State when he was 28 to become a graduate student in creative writing.

“I applied for two reasons. I wanted to try fiction writing and I wanted to try teaching,” Duncan says. “I learned to love both of these things at NC State, and scores of faculty members, graduate students and undergraduate students helped show me the way.”

Duncan says his career would not exist if it weren’t for the encouragement and inspiration of his thesis director, John Kessel, a professor in creative writing and American literature at NC State.

“Kesell spent countless hours with me in the office,” Duncan says. “He convinced me there was a market for the oddball stories I was writing and the field of science fiction and fantasy… I just didn’t know it yet.”

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Some of the oddball ideas that Kessel encouraged Duncan to write about include a homicidal gator-man, an Appalachian dragon, a chicken named Jesus Christ and the devil’s son-in-law. These characters are all featured in his most recent book, The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories.

Duncan will be making his way back to campus for a public reading of the book next Wednesday, Sept. 12. He will be reading from 7:30-10 pm in the Studio Theatre in Thompson Hall.

Today, Duncan is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Frostburg State University in Maryland. Duncan’s day-to-day life revolves around his wife, pets and his undergraduate students, but he has ideas for stories on a regular basis.

“I am constantly thinking of story ideas, story titles, character names, bits of dialogue and description and jotting them down,” Duncan says. “Some of my best story ideas come to me while I’m brushing my teeth, taking a shower, pumping gas or sitting in traffic.”

Duncan looks forward to returning to NC State and hopes to spend his time on campus meeting new people, visiting classes and doing his book reading for CHASS students and alumni.

“I also plan,” Duncan says, “on making a stop at the Char-Grill.”

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