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Storyteller Cadwell Turnbull

Sitting on a bench, Cadwell Turnbull holds a stylus pen and writes on a tablet. Play Video

What can you do with an NC State degree in English? Ask science fiction and fantasy author Cadwell Turnbull.

Turnbull (M.A. in English; MFA ’15) is a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a place that features heavily in his work and serves as the setting for his debut novel, The Lesson. The book explores the interactions between a local community and an alien population, the Ynaa, that arrives at its shores.

“We see a lot of alien invasion stories set in big cities — places that people recognize and have large populations,” Turnbull says. “I wanted to set a story with aliens in a place that’s small and that has been neglected and thinking about some of the themes that come out of that. 

The Lesson explores ideas around colonialism, cycles of violence, masculinity, sexuality and faith, but from a very local perspective.”

The novel continues to land on must-read lists across the nation and has been featured by the Boston Globe, Barnes and Noble’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, The Verge, New Scientist Magazine, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, among other outlets. 

At NC State, Turnbull says he learned about craft, storytelling and how to communicate his ideas in a way people can respond to. 

“I was in classes with other writers that were turning in really great work,” Turnbull says. “I was working with award-winning or bestselling authors. That gave me a lot of perspective and also an education on how to approach storytelling in a way that would be meaningful but also thoughtful.”

In addition to his MFA in Creative Writing, Turnbull earned an M.A. in English with a concentration in linguistics. He says the two degrees a mechanism for looking at the world through language.

“It’s been interesting leaving NC State and realizing that there’s a million different ways to apply these degrees,” Turnbull says. “It’s been a really useful experience to take all of the things I learned here and bring it into my writing and my interactions with people.”

“How I Think and Do” is a series created by NC State’s Humanities and Social Sciences that highlights our outstanding alumni.

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