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Call for participants: AWP conference memorial for Jim

Posted on behalf of Michael Downs

I'd like to let visitors to this site know a bit more about the panel planned for the upcoming AWP conference that's noted here on this site. Last summer, after Jim died and after his memorial service, Susan Perabo and I talked about the need to make sure AWP acknowledged Jim's death at its upcoming conference. Jim was one of the founders of AWP, and we thought the organization needed to remember him. AWP's conference organizers agreed, and though we had missed the deadline for panel proposals by more than a month, they welcomed the addition of this panel honoring Jim.

To help draw people to the panel, I sent out the following paragraphs as an e-mail to as many writers as I could. If you'd like, please forward them to anyone you know who may attend AWP and be interested in attending the panel.

Jim Whitehead was a poet and novelist and former offensive lineman at Vanderbilt. He also was one of the founders of the creative writing program at Arkansas and of AWP. He taught fiction (to Barry Hannah and Ellen Gilchrist) and poetry (to Leon Stokesbury, R.S. Gwynn, C.D. Wright and others). He loved the sonnet, and Yeats, and Elizabeth Bishop and Philip Larkin. He was a giant, with voracious intellectual tastes that ranged from Biblical scholarship to Amazonian culture and SEC football. He once went on tour with Tom T. Hall.

His novel, JOINER, was a New York Times notable book of the year, and his volumes of poetry were published by the University of Missouri Press and the University of Illinois Press.

Which is all a kind of bloodless way of saying that I loved him, as did so many of his students. His death was sudden and hurt us deeply. This panel is an effort to pay him tribute.

The panel is titled "A Local Man Exits: A tribute to James Whitehead." If you go to the AWP site (http://www.awpwriter.org/conference/) and see "A Local Man Exists," well, that's an unfortunate typo they've yet to fix.

I hope I see some of you there (and if any of you guys are looking for a room at the Palmer House, I've got one with two beds and two bathrooms I'm willing to share -- $60 a night).


Michael Downs

P.S. Here's one of Jim's poems that's a particular favorite of mine.


I shot the chicken in the tree above
Where Herbert stood howling after I'd shot.
Bitterly he cried so loud of feather Love
Itself became involved. Lord, lord, the fit
He threw was terrible. He said his head -
His sacred head - was daubed for poetry -
He said my cruelty would make him mad -
He said it was a ritual catastrophe.

Herbert was splattered with old chicken blood
And pink feathers from eyes to knees. He said
Later, twelve years later, that he was sad
He'd frightened me. Within a month he died.
On his deathbed he reached out for my hand
And he said we come from where we get the wound.

February 5, 2004 in Events | Permalink


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If anyone wants to email Michael to find out more about the AWP event, use the email link in this comment field.

(it's been scrambled to protect his address from spam harvesters, as all comment email addies are)


Posted by: Michael Downs | Feb 5, 2004 2:06:40 PM

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