This article is updated and adapted from an interview by Dustin Byerly (BA RUP ’01) that originally appeared in Clockworks magazine in 2015.
Alumnus and award-winning fantasy author Piers Anthony (BA RUP ’56), has sold over 100 books, 21 of which were on the New York Times Bestseller List. While at Goddard from 1952-1956, he not only studied creative writing and discovered his passion, but he discovered a close-knit family of like minded individuals and met the love of his life.
“Goddard transformed my life. It was there that I became a vegetarian, decided on my life’s career, and fell in love,” said Piers.
How did you hear about Goddard?
My mother learned of it, and I liked the sound of it: Vermont, no grades, small, liberal. Remember, this was in prehistoric times: No Internet.
What made you decide to enroll?
Same as above. They also gave me a significant need-based scholarship, which I have since repaid more than a hundredfold.
What was Goddard like in the 1950s?
Small. At one point we had just 57 students. It was like a big family. I needed that.
You met your wife while you were at Goddard. How did you meet?
At Goddard, everyone knew everyone. We worked on the same dishwashing crew. One thing led to another, and…
We married when I graduated in 1956 and continued until she died in 2019, 63 years. She went to work so I could stay home and try to be a freelance writer, thus enabling me to succeed in my dream. We had two daughters, Penny and Cheryl. So yes, Goddard changed our lives.
How did you know you wanted to write?
When I had completed two years at Goddard, I had to choose my major. My interest in higher level math had been stifled in high school when I was required to take four years of languages instead of math classes. My interest in art faded when I concluded that I was not a good enough
painter to make it professionally. I pondered day and a night, and it came to me like a light turning on: I wanted to be a creative writer. That light still guides me, 66 years later.
It has been said that you and your wife made a deal regarding your career as an aspiring writer?
That’s true: If I was unable to sell any of my fiction in a year of full-time trying, I would give it up and make a mundane living. But I sold two stories.
Had I not made any sales in that trial year, I would have returned to the mundane grind, making a living. How glad I am that I made it! If my fan mail is to be believed, I have saved many lives by providing an escape in the form of my magic Land of Xanth.
What inspires you to write?
I just love to write. I also like being my own man, and constantly exercising my creativity.
Many of your books were on the New York Times Bestseller List. What was the first book you wrote that hit the bestseller list? And how did it feel to get that type of recognition?
That was Ogre, Ogre, the fifth Xanth novel. It may have been the first original paperback fantasy novel (that is, not a reprint from a hardcover) to make the NYT list. There’s a story behind it: Critics were accusing me of being an ogre at fan conventions—before I had even attended one. Critics are finely crafted from animal feces, as you may know. That annoyed me, so I made an ogre the hero of the next novel—and, ogre-like, it smashed all barriers and made the bestseller list. After that, folks could call me an ogre if they wanted to.
You have accomplished a great deal in your writing career. Is there one thing that stands out in your mind as your greatest achievement?
That may be my efforts to improve the lot of writers. I helped get the self-publisher Xlibris started, and I maintain an ongoing Survey of Electronic Publishers that doesn’t pull its punches.
Did your Goddard education help you in your life/career?
Oh yes—just having my BA widened my job prospects. I was able to get jobs as a technical writer, a social worker, and with a few education courses, a teacher. I simply needed to survive until I could make it as a writer.
What did you do after graduation from Goddard?
Mainly, I got drafted into the U.S. Army for two years. I didn’t make my first story sale until six years after graduating.
What is your fondest memory or story from your time at Goddard?
Goddard was like paradise for me. It continued from there. My wife Carol (Cam) liked the work days with music blasting out across the campus. I was the only one I knew who ever crossed college president Tim Pitkin. When I ran the Student Loan Fund, the charge to borrowers was one percent per week. I thought that was too high, so I charged less. When challenged, I marched into Tim’s office and showed him—from his own references—that this rate was against Vermont’s Usury Law. He never challenged me again.
Was there a particular faculty member who had a strong impact on you?
Will Hamlin, my advisor for Creative Writing. I was the only one majoring in Creative Writing, so, in effect I was in a class of one with Will. That was an ideal situation for learning. I was not a great writer, but I made progress, and, in time, did get there. When I got suspended for a week for being in the Manor Lounge after-hours with five other students— the faculty had violated community policy to take control of the lounges —Will Hamlin was the only faculty member to stand up for the students. That says something about his character. I also especially remember John Pierce, who made me see the world as an almost living geological entity.
What advice do you have for today’s Goddard student/aspiring writers?
Keep writing and improving. A degree won’t sell fiction; you have to perfect your ability on your own.
Read more about Piers Anthony, the Xanth world of books and his ongoing “pundemic” at hipiers.com. Carol Ann Marble Jacob, died at home in October 2019. Piers remarried on April 22, Earth Day, 2020 “beside a sable palmetto, the state tree of Florida.”
Your Goddard journey begins with a single step. Our faculty writers are all published authors, and award-winners, like Sherri L. Smith. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and inquire about getting the kind of education that is specific to your particular world, be it fantastic or otherwise.