David Morrell

non-UI grad Faculty Staff 1999

David Morrell, a former professor of English at the University of Iowa who garnered critical attention with his debut novel, First Blood, in 1972, has become an immensely popular and prolific master of suspense. During his career as a faculty member and as a highly successful author, Morrell has demonstrated his commitment to connecting with the individual-students and readers alike.

Known for his page-turning adventure stories filled with action and intrigue, Morrell has sold more than 12 million copies of his books. Several have been made into movies, including First Blood and The Brotherhood of the Rose. He is regarded the world over for his fast-paced plots and rapid-fire action. Yet the Santa Fe resident still speaks fondly of the University of Iowa and he has generously supported areas on campus that remain dear to his heart.

Creator of the Rambo character, Morrell himself is a gentle man. Described by one magazine as someone who "prefers planting tomatoes to pulling a trigger," Morrell says he has a marked fear of violence. At one time he even dreaded watching weather reports on television, because, he says, he was always afraid a man would stop the program to say that war had been declared. The son of a Canadian Royal Air Force pilot who was killed over Europe in 1943, the year he was born, Morrell knows the cost of violence. The theme of a man living without a father echoes through some of his best-known books.

Morrell is a father, too. He endured a wrenching trauma when his high school-age son, Matt, was diagnosed with cancer and treated at UI Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). Matt died in 1987. In spite of their grief, Morrell and his wife, Donna, expressed their appreciation for the care Matt received at UIHC by establishing the Matt Morrell Memorial Fund through the University of Iowa Foundation. The fund supports hematology and oncology in the Department of Pediatrics at UIHC. In addition, profits from the sale of Fireflies, a book Morrell wrote about the family's ordeal during Matt's illness and death, help support cancer research at UIHC through the Matt Morrell Memorial Fund.

Morrell taught in the UI Department of English from 1970 to 1986. When he left the faculty, the UI lost a terrific teacher and the public gained a prolific author. Today Morrell is teaching beyond the classroom, educating readers through his fastidiously researched novels. As he describes his approach, "I try to put in ideas that will leave the reader thinking after the thrills disappear. You can use history to fascinate people."

Through gifts of his published works and manuscripts to the Department of Special Collections at University Libraries, Morrell has made another substantial commitment to the university. Since 1988, he has donated more than 400 volumes of his works that have been published in English, as well as languages from Italian to Thai, Czech to Icelandic. He has also given the library drafts of novels and scripts that document his writing career.

Morrell's biography on the jackets of his novels almost always mentions his years of teaching literature at the University of Iowa. Over the years, the university has educated many writers and employed many educators who are writers, but few former faculty have become such popular writers who still maintain personal ties with the university.

Morrell is a member of the UI Foundation's Presidents Club.

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