The Department of English emerged in 1893 after splitting with the Department of History which, up to that point, had existed as a single entity together under the leadership of Edwin Alderman. When Alderman departed and the departments split, English fell under the leadership of James Y. Joyner. Joyner served as head of the department until his departure in 1902. At this point, leadership of the department passed to William Cunningham Smith, who would lead the department until his retirement in 1940. As the department developed over the years, it become notable for its writing program, attracting writers such as John Crowe Ransom, Randall Jarrell, Allen Tate, and Caroline Gordon. It also produced talented authors such as Margaret Coit, Sheila Corley, and Eleanor Ross Taylor.
In 1943, the department sponsored a Writing Forum. Hiram Haydn, an author and editor who would later become the founder of Atheneum Publishers, served as the coordinator of the Forum during its initial year. The following year under the leadership of Winfield Rogers and Marc Friedlander, the Forum grew into an annual interdisciplinary Arts Forum. The three-day event featured writing, music composition, art, and dance. Participants in the Arts Forum included dancer Martha Graham, author Flannery O’Connor, and architect Walter Gropius.
In 1963, the Department of English established a Master’s of Arts Program and in 1968, it became the first arts and sciences department to launch a Ph.D. program.
Between 1969-1972, the department grew dramatically as the faculty increased to 42, making it the largest arts and sciences department on campus. Most of the growth was due to the multi-sectioned freshman composition course, required of all students. However, during the 1970s, the Department of English faced a crisis as other competitive writing programs began to bloom across the country. Many students in the M.F.A. in creative writing program came to UNCG from out of state, and a doubling of out of state tuition in 1972 hampered recruitment. The result was that in 1979, the faculty actually voted to dissolve the program unless more money was dedicated to it. Recognizing the severity of the issue, the new Chancellor William Moran, diverted more funds to it ultimately saving the program for future students.
In 1985, the department set up a writing center to provide individual help to students at any level in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Department of English Chairs/Heads:
- James Y. Joyner (1893-1902)
- William C. Smith (1902-1940)
- Winfield Rogers (1940-1945)
- Leonard Burwell Hurley (1945-1960)
- Robert Watson (Fall 1960, interim)
- Jean Gagen (Spring 1961, interim)
- Joseph A. Bryant, Jr. (1961-1968)
- William G. Lane (1968-1981)
- Robert Oren Stephens (1981-1988)
- Walter Beale (1988-1990)
- James E. Evans (1990-2000)
- Denise Baker (2000-2006)
- Anne Wallace (2006-2015)
- Scott Romine (2015-)