Donald K. Fry

Donald K. "Don" Fry (born 1937) is an American writer and scholar. He began as a scholar of Old and Middle English literature at the University of Virginia and Stony Brook University. He changed fields to journalism education in 1984, joining the Poynter Institute of Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida, a journalism think-tank. In 1994, he became an independent writing coach.

Donald K. Fry
Don Fry
Raleigh, North Carolina
OccupationWriter and scholar
EducationNeedham B. Broughton High School
Alma materDuke University
Notable worksMedieval Scandinavia An Encyclopedia, Ways with Words, Coaching Writers

Life and career

A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Fry learned to write from Phyllis Abbott Peacock at Needham B. Broughton High School. He earned a degree in English literature (1959) from Duke University. Fry served as a communications and gunnery officer on U.S.S. Massey (DD-778), an Atlantic Fleet destroyer (1959–1962). He was a graduate student at University of California at Berkeley, where he earned a Ph.D. in English (1966) specializing in early medieval literature.

Fry began his academic career as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Virginia (1966–1969), then moved to Stony Brook University, becoming a Professor of English and Comparative Literature (1969–1984). Fry chaired the Program in Comparative Literature, and the Arts and Sciences Senate, and served as Provost for Humanities and Fine Arts (1975–1977).

Fry became an Associate at the Poynter Institute in 1984, and later headed the Writing and Ethics faculties, and edited the Institute’s annual publication Best Newspaper Writing (1985–1990, 1993). With his colleague Roy Peter Clark Fry systemized the techniques of coaching writers, invented at the Boston Globe by Donald Murray. Fry and Clark published their methods in Coaching Writers: Editors and Reporters Working Together (St. Martin's, 1991). They expanded their coverage to multimedia in a second edition: Coaching Writers: Editors and Reporters Working Together across Media Platforms (Bedford-St. Martin's, 2003).


Academic works

Fry began his academic writing with his 1966 dissertation, Aesthetic Applications of Oral-Formulaic Theory: Judith 199-216a, which established terminology and techniques for analyzing the artistry of formulaic poetry in England before 1066. He later published articles from this dissertation that influenced a generation of scholars studying Anglo-Saxon poetics.[1]

Fry wrote three books on Beowulf: The Beowulf Poet: A Collection of Critical Essays (Prentice-Hall, 1968);[2] Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburh: A Bibliography (Virginia, 1969), praised for the "immense amount of intelligent labor" from Fry;[3] and Finnsburg Fragment and Episode (Methuen, 1974).[4] He also published two reference books on Old Norse: Norse Sagas Translated into English (AMS, 1980)[5] and Medieval Scandinavia, An Encyclopedia (Garland, 1993, with Phil Pulsiano).

He has been praised for his "investigation of the type-scene as an episodic unit in narrative", explaining how narratives such as Beowulf are constructed from simpler units involving repeated motifs.[6] He also discovered a new manuscript of the Old English poem Durham.[7]

On writing

Fry teaches writing skills and teaches editors how to help their writers.[8] In 2008-2012, he wrote a blog on “Writing Your Way, in Your Own Voice,” published by Writer’s Digest as a book in 2012 as Writing Your Way, Creating Your own Writing Process that Works for You. Fry teaches writers to create their own writing process based on magnifying their strengths, and changing or compensating for their weaknesses.[9] He developed techniques for creating a writing voice, defined as “devices used consistently to create the illusion of a person speaking through the text.” Since 1995, he has taught in the Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Food Writers, coaching on structure, description, and courage.[10][11] He has been called "one of the world’s most respected and well-traveled writing coaches".[12]

Selected bibliography


  • Pulsiano, Philip; Donald K. Fry; et al., Medieval Scandinavia An Encyclopedia. (New York: Garland, 1993).
  • Fry, Don; Roy Peter Clark; and Frank Denton. Ways with Words. (Reston: American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1993).
  • Clark, Roy Peter and Don Fry. Coaching Writers. (New York: St. Martin's, 1992). 2nd ed. (Bedford, St. Martin’s, 2003).
  • Garcia, Mario R. and Don Fry. Color in American Newspapers. (St. Petersburg: Poynter Institute, 1986).
  • Fry, Don. Believing the News. (St. Petersburg: Poynter Institute, 1986).
  • Fry, Don. Best Newspaper Writing, annual. (St. Petersburg: Poynter Institute, 1985–1990, 1993).
  • Fry, Donald K. Norse Sagas Translated into English. (New York: AMS, 1980).
  • Fry, Donald K. Finnsburh Fragment and Episode. (London: Methuen, 1974).
  • Fry, Donald K. Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburh A Bibliography. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1969).
  • Fry, Donald K. The Beowulf Poet. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968).


  1. Foley, John Miles (1985). Oral-formulaic theory and research: an introduction and annotated bibliography. Garland Pub. ISBN 978-0-8240-9148-4.
  2. Johnston, George (1970). "Review: Our Germanic Epic". Poetry. 115 (4): 274–276. JSTOR 20599244.
  3. Robinson, Fred C. (1971). "Review: Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburh: A Bibliography by Donald K. Fry". Speculum. 46 (2): 367–69. doi:10.2307/2854865. JSTOR 2854865.
  4. Jost, David A. (1977). "Review: Daniel and Azarias by R. T. Farrell; Finnsburh Fragment and Episode by Donald K. Fry". Speculum. 52 (4): 964–65. doi:10.2307/2855410. JSTOR 2855410.
  5. Bell, L Michael (Dec 1983). "THE CATASTROPHE IS MY OWN". English Language Notes. 21 (2): 44–44.
  6. Desmond, Marilynn (1992). "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Tradition". Oral Tradition. 7 (2): 258–283.
  7. O'Donnell, Daniel Paul (2002). Lapidge, Michael; Godden, Malcolm; Keynes, Simon; et al. (eds.). Junius's knowledge of the Old English poem Durham. Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge University Press. p. 231. ISBN 978-0-521-80210-9.
  8. "Tip Sheet". Publishers Weekly.
  9. Ricchiardi, Sherry (March 1994). "Women on War". American Journalism Review.
  10. "Serving Up Inspiration at the Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Food Writers". May 21, 2009.
  11. Greenspan, Dorie (April 10, 2008). "Food writers of the world unite at The Greenbrier Professional Food Writers' Symposium". Bon Appétit Magazine. Archived from the original on August 25, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2016 via Yahoo! Shine.
  12. Clark, Roy Peter (March 15, 2012). "How to create a writing process that works for you". Poynter Institute. Archived from the original on October 18, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
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