Creative Writing

Carson Vaughan (MFA '14) Publishes Debut Book


The Department of Creative Writing is proud to share that alumnus Carson Vaughan’s debut book, ZOO NEBRASKA: The Dismantling of an American Dream, will be published on April 1, 2019 by Little A.

Written in the tradition of some of our best American reportage—think Susan Orlean, John McPhee, Truman Capote, and “This American Life”— the book tells the true story of the Midwest Primate Center in Royal, Nebraska (pop. 81). Over the course of two decades, the Center expands from a single chimpanzee in a trailer home to over sixty animals across seven acres before unravelling under the stresses of small-town politics, inept financial dealings and the tragic escape of four beloved chimpanzees. As Studio 360 host and bestselling author Kurt Andersen writes, “ZOO NEBRASKA is Great Plains Gothic—Fargo meets S-Town meets Alexander Payne, a riveting tale of quixotic hopes and dreams and bad blood, all of it carefully, knowingly, sympathetically told.”

“I wrote the first draft of ZOO NEBRASKA in pursuit of my MFA at the University of North Carolina Wilmington,” says Vaughan.  “My workshops with Philip Gerard and Virginia Holman proved invaluable to its early development, and the guidance I received from David Gessner, my thesis advisor, continued to shape the narrative well after I had graduated. From the minute I stepped foot in Royal, Nebraska, I knew I wanted to write a book about the zoo and its ultimate demise. At UNCW, I learned how to spin that dream into a reality.”

A native of Broken Bow, Nebraska, Vaughan graduated from UNCW’s MFA program in Creative Writing in 2014. A freelance journalist who writes frequently about the Great Plains, his work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Guardian, Paris Review Daily, Outside, Pacific Standard, Slate, The Atlantic, Vice, In These Times, and more.  Find additional information on the author and order ZOO NEBRASKA: The Dismantling of an American Dream at



A marvelous, meaningful book, full of deep reporting, fine writing, and big questions about the nature of community, of living with animals, of challenging values. Zoo Nebraska will surprise and engage you and make you think.
—Susan Orlean, author of New York Times bestsellers The Library Book and The Orchid Thief

Zoo Nebraska is the kind of delightfully unexpected book that comes along once in a blue moon. The subject, the bittersweet and hilarious collapse of a once-charming zoo in a once-charming Midwest town, is as unlikely as it is wonderful. The chimpanzees run wild, and away we go. Carson Vaughan writes with eloquent meticulousness. He has a novelist’s eye. The overall impact is stunning.”
—Buzz Bissinger, author of Father’s Day and New York Times bestseller Friday Night Lights

“Reading like a sustained segment of This American Life, in a tone at once dryly comic and doleful, this account of bizarre events in northeastern Nebraska paints a portrait of the entire region and suggests a metaphor for mankind in general. Well observed and crisply written.
—Alexander Payne, Academy Award–winning director of Nebraska and The Descendants


Carson Vaughan