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Brown Family Donates $1M to MFA in Creative Writing Program

A student reads her poem before a crowd

I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.

— William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

If Shakespeare himself finds no better words than these, how can we say more?

Ever thanks it is to Tony Brown and his family, who have made a $1 million gift to support the MFA in Creative Writing program at NC State. The gift marks the largest for a humanities department at NC State and one of the largest funded endowments in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. 

“This gift is transformative,” says Dean Jeff Braden. “It will take our MFA in Creative Writing program  — already a jewel in the crown for NC State — and make it shine much more brightly. Tony and the Brown family have been friends and exceedingly generous donors to the program for more than 15 years. With this gift, Tony and his family are creating a legacy that will launch the careers of many gifted poets, novelists and other writers for years to come.”

Brown family
The Brown family walks together before an NC State volleyball game.

Tony McLean Brown ’83, Kathy Eskew Brown ‘83 and two of their three children are NC State alumni. Tony earned his degree in computer science; Kathy was an English major; Miles ’14 and Julia ’19 were business majors.

Julia had an outstanding career with the women’s volleyball team at NC State before playing professionally in Europe. The Browns are long-time supporters of not only the Wolfpack Club but also the Institute for Emerging Issues and the College of Engineering. They also recently supported the Student Emergency Fund and the Feed the Pack Pantry.

“Tony and his family are creating a legacy that will launch the careers of many gifted poets, novelists and other writers.”

So why did the Browns choose to support the humanities, and specifically the graduate creative writing program?

“The children’s mom, Kathryn Eskew Brown, earned her English degree from NC State,” Tony explains. “She has always had a place in her heart and mind for the written word and continues to be a staunch advocate of a liberal arts education. As a student, Kathy had a communication internship in the governor’s office and worked as a Technician reporter. Our kids grew up with books in every room, and beside every bed and couch. Literature in all its forms was and is an integral part of our lives.  

“Over the years, we have received several mailings from NC State, including entreaties concerning the creative writing program, which caused us to want to understand more. That is when the magic started: the more we learned, the more we wanted to support creative writing at NC State. We kept up with the students’ publications, and even attended some book signings when we were in Raleigh. It is a great program and is nurturing many talented writers to grow and flourish.”

The Browns began their generous philanthropy to the program in 2006; their annual gifts were instrumental in developing and maintaining a reading series that brought outstanding  writers to campus, including literary legends like Sharon Olds, Stephen Dunn, Percival Everett and Yusef Komunyakaa. 

“Our students learned and grew a great deal through readings and discussions with these visitors,” says Belle Boggs, director of the MFA program. “We are thrilled to be able to continue and even expand our program with week-long teaching visits from poets and fiction writers.”

Immense Impact

The Brown family’s gift will boost student recruitment, create professional development opportunities, bring renowned authors to campus, forge community partnerships and more.

What’s more, Boggs says, the Brown family’s gift will allow MFA faculty to provide rigorous professional development for their students, including intensive workshops that address grant writing, residencies, teaching and other opportunities. The sessions will be led primarily by MFA alumni whose professional and artistic success can be traced in no small ways to the Brown family’s long-standing belief in and support of the program. 

Through the Browns, the MFA program can greatly expand its efforts to recruit students from myriad and diverse backgrounds. Boggs estimates the program will double the impact of its diversity recruiting program.

Community engagement will also grow. “Our students care deeply about their impact on the community,” says Boggs, “and we’re exploring ways to support them in programs of outreach teaching, publishing and literary ventures that will positively affect the literary landscape of North Carolina and beyond.”  

What do Tony and his family hope their philanthropy will achieve?

“Opportunity,” he says. “Opportunity for the university, the faculty, and most importantly, the students. If we can get more voices heard and appreciated, then our donation has done a little good.”   

Thanks, and ever thanks, to Tony and the Brown family.