Creative Writing

April 5, 2019

Dear Members of the UNCW Creative Writing Family,

I am writing to you at a time of great loss here in Kenan Hall. As many of you have heard, Phil Furia, professor and friend, passed away on Wednesday morning.  It has been a time of tears here in Kenan, which feels empty without Phil’s presence. In particular I have been thinking about, and hearing, his unique voice. It is a voice that has taught, soothed, and inspired many of us over the years and a voice known far beyond these walls, from interviews with Terry Gross and Larry King to several PBS specials to Wilmington’s own, “The Great American Song Book,” which Phil hosted on WHQR. It is a voice we will never forget.

Phil was a prolific writer, a great teacher, a leader as chair of many departments here at UNCW, but what I will remember most is what a kind and gracious man he was. I knew him for fifteen years and can’t think of one disagreeable word between us. Which is not to say he sometimes didn’t disagree. If he hadn’t we likely would not have had a creative writing department, since he was both the chair of English, and a full supporter of our breaking away into our own department, at the start of this program’s existence. He was, quite simply, our founder.

Phil is known best for his books on popular American song: The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great LyricistsIra Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist; Irving Berlin: A Life in Song; Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer; America’s Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley and, with Laurie Patterson, The Songs of Hollywood and The American Song Book: The Tin Pan Alley Era. But people who know him this way might be surprised to learn that he attended the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in the 1960s, where he received his MFA and wrote a novel. In a life full of achievement he would later become an Ezra Pound scholar and get his PhD at Iowa, become Dean at the University of Minnesota, and finally become a cornerstone of our department.

Phil was a generous man, a great scholar, a born teacher. It was an honor for all of us to work with him. He will be deeply missed. 

            —David Gessner


photo credit: Tom Lowenburg, Octavia Books