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RIP Daphne Athas

Daphne Athas passed away this week. An award-winning writer who taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for forty years, Daphne was a beloved member of the community. She was 97.

She published her debut novel, The Weather of the Heart, in 1947. Her 1971 novel Entering Ephesus was named to Time’s Ten Best Fiction List. She was awarded the Sir Raleigh Award for Fiction for her 1978 novel, Cora. She also published a collection of poems, Crumbs for the Bogeyman (1991).

Daphne was 85 when she retired from UNC. Her class about grammar, “Glossolalia,” was very popular. With an editorial assist from friend-of-the-Network Marianne Gingher, Daphne published a collection based on that grammar class, Gram-O-Rama (2008).

She taught as a Fulbright scholar in Tehran during the 1974-75 academic year. In a 1980 interview with the Sun magazine, Daphne offered this insight into what it was like teaching literature at the university level:

Reading is an experience. It isn’t something to be taught in universities. It is taught, in a sense, like gospel. What you get (in universities) are people who come out convinced, because the people who teach them are convinced, that so-and-so are excellent, which they are. But the university structure forbids the teaching of the biggies because it can’t fit in one semester’s course. You can’t do Remembrance of Things Past, and The Brothers Karamazov, and two other big novels in one class. It’s not practical. So you get masters’ short stories in anthologies. And people have a good knowledge of two or three stories of about twenty writers, and they can talk literature. That’s not my understanding of fiction. Thank God, some people are reading as they used to read. Some books, you live them. That’s what reading is: you live them.

She was a fresh voice who wrote about intellectuals, poor southerners, Greek immigrants, Chapel Hill,  grammar, teachers, soldiers, her many travels, and much more.