Edwin Graves Wilson (b. February 1, 1923), known affectionately as “Mr. Wake Forest,” is Professor Emeritus of English and Provost Emeritus for Wake Forest University. Wilson was born in Leaksville, North Carolina and began classes at Wake Forest at age 16. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.A (1943) in English and after graduation, he served as a U.S. Naval officer on a destroyer escort during World War II. Post-war, he received his A.M. (1948) and Ph.D (1952) in English from Harvard University. Wilson returned to his alma mater as an Instructor in English, and was named Professor of English (1959). A skilled and articulate teacher, Dr. Wilson focused on the British Romantic poets, such as William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and others as well as the poetry of William Blake, William Butler Yeats, and Dylan Thomas.
Professor Wilson had a long and distinguished administrative career at Wake Forest. His positions included: Professor of English (1959- ); Assistant Dean, Undergraduate College (1957-1958); Acting Dean of the College (1958-1960); Dean of the College (1960-1967); Provost (First) (1967-1990); Vice President for Special Projects (1990-1994); Provost Emeritus (1994-1998; 2002- ); and Senior Vice President (1998-2002). Under his leadership, a Faculty Committee voted to end segregation, Wake Forest established its residential study abroad programs in London and Venice, and established the Wake Forest Press. He also represented Wake Forest on numerous national organizations, including the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), where he also served as president. In 1992, the new wing of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library was named in his honor. Professor Wilson is the recipient of the Reinhardt Award for Distinguished Teaching, the Distinguished Alumni Citation, and in 2004, he received Wake Forest’s highest award for service to the University, the Medallion of Merit.
Professor Wilson has served numerous arts-related organizations throughout his career. He was a Trustee (1977-1980) for the North Carolina Humanities Council, and also served the Piedmont Opera Theater; the Winston-Salem Arts Council; the North Carolina Arts Council; the Reynolda House Museum of American Art; and on the Winston-Salem State University Board of Trustees.
Professor Wilson was awarded the North Carolina Award for Public Service (2002) and the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities (2014) from the North Carolina Humanities Council. He is married to the author and poet Emily Herring Wilson (Wake Forest, M.A. 62’). They are the parents of three children and have four grandchildren.
Selected Works, 1988-2019
- 10 For 10. Wake Forest Magazine, 2016.
- A Celebration of Songs of Wake Forest, a Book of Tributes by Dr. Edwin G. Wilson, January 11, 2021. ZSR Library Special Collections and Archives hosts an event celebrating Songs of Wake Forest, the latest book by Dr. Edwin G. Wilson. Ed Wilson’s relationship with Wake Forest, which began when he entered the College as a freshman in 1939, has continued for more than eight decades. Throughout his tenure, he has paid tribute to many in the Wake Forest family whose lives have intersected with his – sometimes speaking on behalf of the University and other times as a personal friend of the family. Songs of Wake Forest celebrates our founding ideals and offers praise for the men and women whose character and contributions shaped the University as we know it today. In this video, Dr. Wilson answers questions and reads a poem by his favorite poet, William Butler Yeats.
- Songs of Wake Forest excerpt, January 11, 2021. This clip is a shortened excerpt of Dr. Wilson reading a poem by William Butler Yeats.
- A Conversation with Mr. Wake Forest: A Question and Answer Time with Provost Emeritus Ed Wilson. Library Lecture Series, September 24, 2015
- A Conversation with Ed Wilson. Library Lecture Series, January 22, 2015
- Ed Wilson, Advent Poetry. 2014 (Audio)
- Ed Wilson Discusses: His World War II Experience. Presented to WRI111 students, 2014
- Ed Wilson on Divinity School, at the Baptist State Convention of NC,1989 (Audio)
- Ed Wilson, Pre-School Building Blocks. 2014 (Audio)
- The Essence of Wake Forest. 2013. A film, “The Essence of Wake Forest,” marries Dr. Edwin G. Wilson’s eloquent description of the character of Wake Forest with scenes from the old and new campuses. The film was produced this summer by award-winning cinematographer George Reasner (’90) and students and faculty in the Documentary Film Program (DFP).
- The Essence of Wake Forest. Wake Forest Magazine, 2011
- Happy birthday, Ed! 2022
- The Heart of Wake Forest. Selected Speeches by Ed Wilson, 2013 (Audio)
- Intra-University Research Symposium, panels on long-range planning and mission of the university, 1997
- “Love Your Library” Event. 2015.
- Pastor’s School, Poetry and Life. July 12, 1988 (Audio)
- Remembering Archie Ammons, January 26, 2020 (Audio)
- Speech delivered at Wake Forest, NC, March 30, 1996 (Audio)
- Three Chapters in the Story of Wake Forest: Ed Wilson reflects on writers and writing at Wake Forest. Essay, Humanities Institute, 2012
- “To Autumn” by John Keats, November 2014 (Video)
- To Honor the Legacy. Founders’ Day convocation, Feb. 6th, 1992
- WFU Class of 1969 Alumni Dinner, Homecoming 2019
Revised March 2022.