The author of three critically acclaimed novels, Angela Davis-Gardner grew up in a family of writers. Her father, Burke Davis, was a journalist and the author of 60 books, and her mother, Evangeline Davis, was the book editor of the Greensboro Daily News. Her brother, Burke Davis III, became a novelist as well.
Her family lived in Joseph Hoskin’s home in Guilford County, a few miles from the city limits of Greensboro, which had provided shelter for General Charles Cornwallis’ troops during the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781. It was purchased by her parents in the early 1950s after her father had completed the novel The Ragged Ones, which was about the Hoskin homestead and its dramatic role in the Revolutionary War.
“The house was an 18th century cabin. Soldiers were buried in the yard. We could see their sunken graves,” Davis-Gardner recalled. She describes their home as “a kind of Black Mountain College” where writers, agents and editors were always visiting. This interesting property and the presence of writers shaped Davis-Gardner’s career. “I could see the importance of discipline,” she said. “My gifts were always books.”
She received her bachelor’s in English from Duke University, where she was taught by legendary creative writing professor William Blackburn, and attended graduate school at UNC Greensboro, where she studied with short story master Peter Taylor.
Her first job after graduate school was teaching at Tokyo's Tsuda College, where she fell in love with the culture. “It had a huge impact,” said Davis-Gardner, a 23-year-old at the time. “I was fascinated by Japanese and American relations and World War II. I felt like I became grown-up and had a wider sense of the world. I learned about the Vietnam War through my students’ perspectives.”
After returning to the states, Davis-Gardner took a class taught by novelist Doris Betts at UNC-Chapel Hill. The manuscript she developed in that class evolved into her first novel, Felice, set in the early 1920s in Nova Scotia. At the center of the story is Felice, a spirited, sometimes spiritual young orphan on the brink of growing up who entertains her friends with the fantasies she spins, while inside she struggles with the expectations of others.
In her second novel, Forms of Shelter, Davis-Gardner weaves a haunting tale of divided loyalties and family secrets. This book also takes some of its inspiration from Osage orange trees of her youth. It is in a treehouse in her back yard that the fictional Beryl Fonteye observes the life around her. Forms of Shelter was a hit at home and abroad. It won the Sir Walter Raleigh Award in N.C. and was a best seller in France.
Her time in Japan influenced Davis-Gardner’s subject matter in Plum Wine, her most successful novel that won numerous awards including a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book, a Southern Independent Booksellers Award finalist, a Book Sense pick and a top 50 Book Sense bestseller in paperback. Davis-Gardner has also won awards for her short stories from Story Magazine and Writer's Digest. Her stories and personal essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Shenandoah, The Cream City Review, The Greensboro Review, The Great River Review and Between Friends: Writing Women Celebrate Friendship (Houghton Mifflin, 1994).
Her fourth novel, Butterfly’s Child, is about the love child of the fictional Madame Butterfly and her American sailor. Butterfly is dead and the sailor and his wife raise their biracial child.
Davis-Gardner is a distinguished professor emeritus of creative writing from NCState University, where she taught for 20 years from 1986 to 2006. “I love to write in the same way I love to read — imagining another world, getting to know characters who often surprise me.”