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We Are the Wolfpack

The Paradox of the Librarian Poetry Fox

Every costumed hero has an origin story. For University Libraries employee Chris Vitiello, aka the Poetry Fox, it all started with a second-hand set of clothing given to him as a joke. 

Chris Vitiello (the Poetry Fox) sits at a table under a tent and types poems for students during Packapalooza.
Chris Vitiello (the Poetry Fox) types poems for NC State students at Packapalooza

When some people need answers to life’s questions, they turn to a relative, a friend or a therapist. Others might confide in a stranger such as a bartender, an Uber driver — or even a man in a fox suit. That’s where Chris Vitiello, aka the Poetry Fox, comes in. 

For the last several years, Vitiello has delighted people at weddings, schools and festivals. He’s also grown a following among students at NC State, bringing his costumed act to events like Packapalooza, Shack-A-Thon and more. His process is simple: People approach him, he asks them to give him a word, he writes it on a piece of paper, he promptly types a poem about the subject using his trusty typewriter, and he hands over the finished product. 

“When I first started doing the Poetry Fox routine, I thought it was just a fun way to show off how good I was at writing and that I would impress people and feel really good about it,” Vitiello said. “I’ve come to realize it’s more about the interactions I get with other people. The poem is really the means to having a small, meaningful interaction with somebody, and I had not anticipated that it would be so valuable to me and to others.”

Chris Vitiello takes off the Poetry Fox mask to unveil his face while looking down at a sheet of paper
Chris Vitiello takes off the Poetry Fox mask to unveil his face (photo by Lissa Gotwals)

As of last month, Vitiello has written over 50,000 poems and appeared at more than 1,000 events. Because he churns out poetry at such a rapid pace, it’s hard for him to remember specific pieces. However, his fans give him frequent reminders about the impact of his work. Last year, a person recognized Vitiello in public, sans costume, and reminded him that he had written a poem for them about the word “transformation.” Little did he know, the person was struggling with their gender identity at the time, and his poem helped them commit to changing their preferred gender identity.

“There’s something about how people let their guard down to a guy in a fox suit and they really show themselves,” Vitiello said. “To me, it was just a poem I wrote for this person, but they interpreted it a certain way and found meaning from it.”

There’s something about how people let their guard down to a guy in a fox suit and they really show themselves.

People often ask Vitiello to write poems for big life events, such as the birth of their children. His poems have even helped mend relationships. 

“On New Year’s Eve, I was writing at a local event and a woman came up to me. She had obviously been crying, and had mascara trails down her face,” he recalled. “She told me her fiance had gotten cold feet and broken up with her earlier that day, and she asked me to write a poem for him about how she was feeling at that moment. She came back to me like two hours later and told me she had sent a picture of it to him, he realized he had made a panicked decision, and they were back together again.”

The Origin Story of the Poetry Fox

Vitiello hasn’t always owned the fox costume, but he has always possessed a passion for reading and a gift for writing. From a young age, he took pride in writing poems based on random ideas that popped into his head. He would even get together with friends and compete in what they called “poetry games.” For example, they would decide to write about the moon, but they would challenge themselves by prohibiting the use of the word moon or related words like star, night or dark in their work.

“That sort of writing really resonates with what I do as the Poetry Fox. You come up to me, we have a short interaction, I get a word from you, and I see what I can come up with as you stand in front of me. It’s like getting a little assignment and having to get it done really fast.”

 The poem is really the means to having a small, meaningful interaction with somebody, and I had not anticipated that it would be so valuable to me and to others.

As a child, Vitiello was fascinated with the concept of having a secret identity, but he has only been wearing the fox costume over the last decade. The outfit came from a relative who had helped organize a festival, and a vendor left it behind by accident. She called them to retrieve it, but they never did, so it ended up sitting in an attic for many years until she was preparing to move.

“She was going to toss it in a dumpster because it was a little unwieldy, and then she thought, ‘I’ll give it to Chris. He likes weird things like this,’” Vitiello laughed. “So really it was a joke gift, and I had it for three or four years before I even did anything with it. I would put it on around the house and goof around with the kids because it was basically a big pair of pajamas.”

As a resident of Durham, North Carolina, Vitiello got involved in the art space Shadowbox Studio, where he participated in Saturday night art programs. For one of those events, he decided to put on the fox suit and write poems on his typewriter. That initial event was a resounding success, and afterwards he received countless requests from acquaintances asking him to bring his act to their art gallery openings or their child’s school. 

Vitiello in the Poetry Fox costume, sitting at a table and typing on his typewriter in the middle of a museum gallery
The Poetry Fox works diligently on a poem during an event (Photo by J. Caldwell)

With his services in high demand, Vitiello works hard behind the scenes to keep his aging fox costume in good shape. He washes it regularly — and carefully — at home, and he recently had the back zipper replaced. The inside scoop is he’s considering purchasing a new costume in the near future. 

Another piece of Vitiello’s ensemble that requires special care is his typewriter. He owns multiple — some that fans gifted to him, others that he purchased after carefully researching on eBay, and one he bought from a reputable typewriter refurbisher. But the one he’s been most consistently using is a 1953 Royal Quiet Deluxe that he bought for $20 at a thrift store. 

“I love this Royal,” he said “I really can’t express how much punishment this typewriter has taken — I am not a gentle typist! I type with a certain kind of panache and energy, and I break things here and there, but it’s just soldiered through with me.”

A Storyteller for University Libraries

Outside of his antics as the Poetry Fox, Vitiello incorporates his writing skills into his day job as well. He has worked for seven years as a communications strategist for NC State University Libraries, where he writes articles about programs, events and people. He also manages the Libraries’ social media accounts. 

Vitiello has lived in the Triangle area for 30 years, and prior to his hiring at NC State, he was a freelance writer. He completed projects for several organizations and other universities in the area, but he has felt the strongest connection with NC State and its students.

Vitiello holding his 1953 Royal Quiet Deluxe Typewriter at a table outside of Hill Library
Vitiello shows off his 1953 Royal Quiet Deluxe Typewriter outside of Hill Library

“One of the first things I did when I moved to this area was to go into all of the academic libraries,” he said. “I’m one of those people who loves the stacks of a library and is always putting my nose into books, so being able to have an office in Hill Library with nine floors of book stacks above me all the time is a perfect fit for me.”

Vitiello is grateful to work for a place that supports his professional and creative pursuits, and he encourages other employees to find ways to exercise their own creative abilities, whether it be at work or in their personal lives.

“If people have a practice they’re interested in, a hobby or some type of artwork that they want to do, you have to make room for it,” Vitiello said. “If you exert a little will and desire into it, it’s worth going after it, whether it turns into a business or if it’s just something you enjoy doing. It’s about being intentional and taking initiative.”

A Poem About Working at the Libraries

ah yes

it’s tuesday and i

have to finish writing

a promo post and a

press release


i hear upstairs the

voices of books

calling me into the stacks

poets historians artists scientists

spines in my


the library wants to speak with me