CoastLine: Philip Gerard And The Consequences Of Writing Cape Fear Rising

Apr 3, 2019

It was the early 1990s when an American creative writing professor set about publishing his second novel.  The pivotal event in his book:  a 19th century bloody failure of democracy.  

Set on American soil in the year 1898, a cabal of wealthy and powerful white men, disturbed by the thriving black majority in a coastal North Carolina city, creates a plan to oust elected city officials from government – indeed from the city itself – at gunpoint – forcing them to leave behind property, thriving businesses, and personal possessions.  Those who didn’t flee fast enough, so goes the tale, were killed in cold blood.  The story this writer of fiction concocts could not reasonably be mistaken for actual American history. 

But it is. 

On this edition of CoastLine, we find out why Philip Gerard decided 25 years ago to uncover and document the secrets of the only known coup d’etat in the United States.  We’ll find out why, despite warnings from his colleagues, he named names and forged ahead with the book, Cape Fear Rising.  And we find out what he knows about the cost to him – and what he can only wonder about. 

Cape Fear Rising is a work of historical fiction, but as Gerard explains in his Afterword, part of the new, 25th Anniversary edition by Blair, the events depicted in the book, which – quote – “ought to feel like dusty old history by now – are suddenly all too relevant to our current civic life.  So we present the same story again for a new generation of readers, the same cautionary tale:  if you don’t tell the story in its truth, you relive it over and over again.”

Philip Gerard has written three other novels and nine books of nonfiction. He’s also written essays and short stories.  25 years after the publication of Cape Fear Rising, he is a tenured professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and he is co-editor of the literary journal, Chautauqua.