Charles Frazier was born on November 4, 1950, in Asheville, North Carolina, not far from the shadow cast by the Cold Mountain that is the title of his best-selling novel. Frazier's family has deep roots in North Carolina. Cold Mountain is based in part on the story of his great-great uncle William P. Inman, a Confederate soldier who walked home from the Civil War, with some of Inman's characterization based on Frazier's great-grandfather, also a Confederate soldier.
Frazier grew up in the small mountain towns of Franklin and Andrews. The primitive types of farming described in Cold Mountain were still in effect on family-owned Appalachian Mountain farms in the 1950s and 1960s. Frazier supplemented his memories of what he experienced growing up near those farms with careful research, as evidenced in many aspects of the novel. About this process Frazier says, "In many ways it's my favorite part of working on a book."
Frazier graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1973 and went on to receive his masters in English from Appalachian State University in 1975. He worked as a textbook and travel guide writer before completing his doctorate in American literature at the University of South Carolina in 1986. Frazier then became a professor of English at the University of Colorado (Boulder) and North Carolina State University.
Frazier met his wife, Katherine, at Appalachian State and married her in 1976. Katherine encouraged her husband to give up his professorship in favor of writing full time. Once he did so, he began working in earnest on Cold Mountain, which took him six to seven years to complete. His friend, Kaye Gibbons, a well-known North Carolina novelist, shared his manuscript with her literary agency, and the interest of a young agent there in particular led to the novel's publication in 1997. The book won the 1997 National Book Award for fiction; later, it was adapted to the silver screen in 2003 and nominated for seven Academy Awards.
Having attained popular and critical success with his first novel, Frazier secured an $8 million advance for his second novel, Thirteen Moons. Published in 2006, the book focuses on the epic story of the Cherokee Native Americans of North Carolina.
In 2008, Frazier received the North Carolina Award for literature, no small feat in a state full of highly regarded writers, including past notables such as Thomas Wolfe, O. Henry, and Reynolds Price. His third novel, Nightwoods, was published in 2011. Set in Appalachia like Frazier's first two novels, this one moves forward to the 1960s but sticks to familiar themes of survival and love. Frazier and his wife sold a horse farm in Raleigh to move back to the mountains, which Frazier says always feels most like home.