Forty years ago poet and novelist Robert Watson and the students in our fledgling MFA writing program put together the first issue of The Greensboro Review. With a cover designed by his wife, artist Betty Watson, the first issue looked very much like this current anniversary issue.
Watson and his fellow faculty editors, Fred Chappell and Peter Taylor, thought the first issue just might be the last. Little did they know that the GR would help launch the careers of more than a few generations of writers. Twenty years ago, for example, we began offering our Literary Awards. The first fiction recipient was a young fire chief out of Oxford, MS, named Larry Brown, and his story, “Kubuku Rides (This Is It),” was selected for both Best American Short Stories and New Stories from the South. Since then the list of winners has included A. Manette Ansay, Ellen Herman, Molly Best Tinsley, Daniel Tobin and Charles H. Webb.
In honor of Watson’s role, we are pleased to announce that our Literary Awards are being renamed the Robert Watson Literary Prizes. In addition, a group of our alumni and faculty have initiated the Robert Watson Poetry Competition, which offers a $500 prize and publication by Spring Garden Press in Greensboro.
For the first few years, the GR featured work by students in our MFA program. Then beginning in the 1970s under the guidance of poet and critic Tom Kirby-Smith, the journal began publishing a wider circle of writers. With fiction writer Lee Zacharias assuming the editorship in 1977, the GR soon developed a reputation for having its stories and poems selected for all the annual anthologies honoring the best being written. And during these forty years, there has also been one editor always there to keep us honest—Fred Chappell, who continues with us as Consulting Senior Editor.
Of course, the GR would never have existed without our MFA student editors, many of whom have gone on to become distinguished literary voices themselves, including our 1990-1991 Poetry Editor, Claudia Emerson, recipient of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.