New York Times Obituary for Jim Whitehead

Jimbest

photo by Chris Boese, Copyright 2003-2005

James Whitehead, 67, Author of 'Joiner,' Novel of Deep South, Dies

August 19,2003

By ROY REED

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark., Aug. 18 —James T. Whitehead, whose only published novel, "Joiner," a coming-of-age novel about segregationist Mississippi, received critical acclaim, died here on Friday. He was 67 and lived in Fayetteville.

The cause was a ruptured aortic aneurysm, his family said.

In 1971 Mr. Whitehead, a poet and teacher, published the story of Sonny Joiner, an oversize former football player and a man of excesses, intellectual and otherwise, passionate about history, theological discourse, painting, politics, quarreling, literature and sports. So was his creator.

The novelist R. V. Cassill, reviewing the book for The New York Times, wrote: "What Whitehead has achieved is to sound the full range of the Deep South's exultation and lament. Once again, we are told that Mississippi is our Ireland, in literature and politics. His tirade makes an awesome, fearful and glorious impact on the mind and ear."

Mr. Whitehead was born on March 15, 1936, in St. Louis. He grew up in Jackson, Miss. He stood 6 feet 5 inches by the time he went to Vanderbilt University on a football scholarship. There he met William Harrison, the budding writer who became his lifelong friend and associate. Mr. Harrison remembered that as a student Mr. Whitehead had a keen intellect, a firm sense of justice on the race issue that was roiling the South at the time and a fully formed ferocity on a broad range of thought from the painting of Vermeer to the theology of St. Augustine.

Mr. Whitehead's hope of a professional football career was dashed by an injury in college. He left Vanderbilt with a bachelor's in philosophy and a master's in English. He graduated from the creative writing program at the University of Iowa, then joined Mr. Harrison to found a similar program at the University of Arkansas. They were shortly joined by their friend Miller Williams, the poet. The master of fine arts program that they established became one of the nation's most acclaimed. Its students have included Barry Hannah, Ellen Gilchrist and others who have made their mark in fiction, poetry, translation, and film.

Mr. Whitehead also published four books of poetry, "Domains," "Local Men," "Actual Size" and "Near at Hand." He was known as a skilled sonneteer. He favored a conversational style that drew on his affection for the country Southerner. A sonnet he titled "A Local Man Doesn't Like the Music" begins:

Those tunes don't recollect one memory
I ever had. Not one could call my name.
And when the music isn't company
It's time to go and time to change your mind.

He is survived by his wife, the former Guendaline Graeber (he died on their 44th wedding anniversary); seven children, including triplets; a brother, Jared, of Marietta, Ga.; and 10 grandchildren.

October 3, 2003 in Obituaries | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jackson (MS) Clarion Ledger

Jimofficeyoung

Gifted writer, instructor Whitehead dies at 67

By Jerry Mitchell
jmitchell@clarionledger.com

Jim Whitehead never forgot where he came from.

The graduate of the old Central High in Jackson helped found the nationally acclaimed Creative Writing program at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and spent 35 years teaching writing there, but underneath it all, "he was a deep-dyed Mississippian," said author Barry Hannah of Oxford.

The 67-year-old writer and poet died Friday at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville of a ruptured aortic aneurism, an unexpected event that stunned those who knew him.

"I'm just crushed," said Hannah, the author of Airships, who plans to attend funeral services Wednesday. "I doubt I'd be anything without Jim Whitehead giving me confidence in the 1960s. He's been a pal, an absolute sterling friend. He was a wonderful gentleman and a part of truth and beauty."

Midway through the civil rights era, Hannah arrived in Fayetteville, sickened by the hate and cowardice of the Klan that had torn his state apart.

"I was ashamed," he said. "I didn't want to come back." In Whitehead, Hannah said, he found a loving mentor who "made me proud of my state all over again."

After graduating from Central High, Whitehead attended Vanderbilt University on a football scholarship, eventually earning a master's in English before going to the University of Iowa and receiving a master of fine arts from Iowa's nationally renown creative writing program.

His literary awards included a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction and a Robert Frost Fellowship in poetry. He wrote four books of poetry, Domains, Local Men, Actual Size and Near at Hand, and a novel, Joiner, which was on the New York Times' Noteworthy Books of the Year list for 1971. He gave the Presidential Poem for President Jimmy Carter on his return to Plains, Ga., in 1981, and later edited his book of poems.

Whitehead's daughter, Kathleen Paulson, said her father had been upset Friday because funding had been cut for the writers program he so treasured. She said he was on the way to buy flowers for his 44th wedding anniversary, when he started having abdominal pain.

Paulson rushed him to the hospital. Tests showed he had a leaking aneurism.
Doctors rushed him to surgery, but it was too late. The aneurism ruptured.

"He gave so much to his students," she said. "He was tough on them, but they loved him."

His students and friends knew him as "Big Jim," a broad, sturdy man who was
nothing less than intense. Whitehead and his wife, Gen, together raised seven
children, including triplets.

"He would intimidate you, if you didn't know him any better," said Ole Miss alum
Sidney Thompson, who studied under Whitehead in the early 1990s and is
featured in Stories From the Blue Moon Cafe 2. "Once you got to know him, he
was a warm, good-hearted man."

Thompson remembered Whitehead's kindness from the first day, when Whitehead
asked him, "Do you have a place to stay? If you don't, you can stay with me."

The very first voice that Indianola native Steve Yarbrough heard after he arrived at the University of Arkansas campus in 1981 belonged to his
teacher.

"As soon as I got a phone, it rang, and it was Whitehead," recalled Yarbrough, the author of Oxygen Man, who now teaches writing himself. "If you
were from Mississippi, that meant you were his. He called and said, 'Are you coming over or not?' He was one of the big reasons I decided to go there."

Students recalled how Whitehead would in one animated conversation expound
upon the poetry of W.B. Yeats to his hopes for 2004 Democratic contenders. He was completing a screenplay on the life of the first-century
Roman solder Tiberius Julius Abderus Panter.

Whitehead spent hours in the evening with his classes and hours with individual
students, returning manuscripts full of editing, Yarbrough said. "The amount of ink tripled the weight of it."

If a student had written poorly, Whitehead would pound his head against the wall, recalled Steve Yates, assistant marketing manager at University Press of
Mississippi. But he balanced sternness with compassion, said Yates, a 1998
graduate of the master of fine arts program at Arkansas. "When he was happy with
you, you felt so golden, and you felt so good at what you'd achieved."

Visitation is 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at Moore's Funeral Home, 206 W. Center St. in
Fayetteville. Services are 2 p.m. Wednesday in Giffels Auditorium in Old Main on
the University of Arkansas campus. Memorials may be made to the "Writers in the
Schools" program or to the Creative Writing Program at the University of Arkansas.

October 2, 2003 in Obituaries | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

James T. Whitehead

I forget the source of this one. May have been NW Arkansas Times. cb

August 17, 2003

James T. Whitehead

Fayetteville, Ark.

James Tillotson Whitehead, 67, died Friday, August 15, 2003, at Washington Regional Medical Center, of a ruptured aortic aneurism. A visitation will be held at Moore's Chapel in Fayetteville, Ark. on Tuesday, from 6-8 p.m. with family present. A memorial service will be held at Giffels Auditorium in Old Main at the University of Arkansas campus on Wednesday, at 2 p.m. A reception will follow.

He was born on March 15, 1936 in St. Louis, Mo., to Dick Bruun Whitehead and Ruth Ann Tillotson. He married Guendaline Graeber on August 15, 1959 and together they raised seven children, including a set of triplets.

Jim grew up in Mississippi, graduating from Jackson's Central High. He attended Vanderbilt University on a football scholarship where he received a BA in Philosophy and an MA in English. He then earned a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. Together with Miller Williams and William Harrison, Jim founded the nationally acclaimed Creative Writing program at the University of Arkansas where he taught for 35 years.

Jim's literary awards included a Guggenheim Fellowship in Fiction and a Robert Frost Fellowship in Poetry. His publications include four books of poetry, Domains, Local Men, Actual Size, and Near at Hand; and a novel, Joiner, which was on the New York Time's Noteworthy Books of the Year list for 1971. He gave the Presentation Poem for President Jimmy Carter on his return to Plains, Georgia, in 1981, and later edited President Carter's book of poems. Never less than intense, Big Jim, as he was known to his friends, would in one animated conversation expound upon the poetry of W.B. Yeats, the paintings of Vermeer, the dead lying in Flanders Fields, the theology of St. Augustine, the prospects for the Razorback's upcoming season, and his hopes of the 2004 Democratic contenders. At the time of his death, Jim was completing a screenplay on the life of the First Century Roman soldier Tiberius Julius Abderus Pantera.

Of all his many accomplishments, he was most proud of his family. Survivors include: his wife of 44 years, Gen; seven children and their spouses, Bruun Whitehead and Kim Willis of Annandale, Va., Dr. Kathleen W. Paulson and George P. Paulson of Fayetteville, Ark., Eric T. and Jennifer Whitehead of Overland Park, Kan., Joan and John Threet of Fayetteville, Ark., Ted and Kelley Whitehead of Fayetteville, Ark., Ruth and Kevin Trainor of Fayetteville, Ark., and Philip and Kamron Whitehead of Fayetteville, Ark.; ten grandchildren, Eleni C. and George Bourland Paulson, ages 14 and 19, of Fayetteville, Ark., Jack and Anna Threet, ages 7 and 4, of Fayetteville, Ark., Rayner and Henley Whitehead, ages 3 and 3 months of Fayetteville, Ark., Collin Whitehead, age 3, of Fayetteville, Ark., Nina Whitehead, age 3 of Annandale, Garrett Whitehead, age 2 of Overland Park, and Emma Trainor, age 2 of Fayetteville, Ark.; a brother, Jared Whitehead, of Marietta, Ga., and an aunt, Jean Davis of Wauwatosa, Wis.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to either "Writers in the Schools" or the Creative Writing Program at the University of Arkansas, c/o Molly Giles, English Department, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701.

October 2, 2003 in Obituaries | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kansas City Star Obituary

This is a longer and more fully developed story, so I just wanted to archive it here also. It does repeat some of the things from the others below. cb

Kansas City Star: AP Wire | 08/18/2003 | James Whitehead, Arkansas professor and writer, dies at 67

Posted on Mon, Aug. 18, 2003

James Whitehead, Arkansas professor and writer, dies at 67
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - James Tillotson Whitehead, a writer and professor who helped build University of Arkansas' creative writing program, has died.

He was 67.

Whitehead, a former St. Louis native who published a number of volumes of poetry and one novel, died Friday after suffering a rupture of an aortic aneurysm.

Jim3_1

In 1965, Whitehead joined Miller Williams and Bill Harrison in establishing the creative writing program at the Fayetteville campus. He spent 35 years in the program as a teacher, administrator and writer, until his retirement in 1999.

Under his influence, the program grew to develop a reputation as one of the most competitive and productive workshops for young writers. Whitehead's former students today are novelists, poets and teachers of writing at universities across the country.

Williams recalled that Whitehead had a way of making students understand him, and that Whitehead had a wonderful sense of humor.

"The mood in a room could never stay very heavy for long with Jim there. He always found something amusing and ironic about most any human situation that made it easier to deal with," he said.

Whitehead was born on March 15, 1936, in St. Louis to Dick Bruun Whitehead and Ruth Ann Tillotson. He grew up in Mississippi and used a football scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University, from which he graduated with a bachelor's in philosophy and a master's in English.

He later earned a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa.

Visitation with family will be held at Moore's Chapel at 206 W. Center Street in Fayetteville from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

A memorial service will be held at Giffels Auditorium in Old Main on the University of Arkansas campus at 2 p.m. Wednesday. A reception will follow.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to either "Writers in the Schools" or the Creative Writing Program at the University of Arkansas, c/o Molly Giles, English Department, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701.

October 2, 2003 in Obituaries, Photos | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Springdale Morning News Obituary for Jim Whitehead

Jimbwjacket

photo by Chris Boese, Copyright 1990-2005

This is the longest obituary I've seen so far. cb

The Morning News :: News

James Whitehead, UA Professor and Writer, Dies at 67 Sun, Aug 17, 2003



By Johnathon Williams

FAYETTEVILLE -- James Tillotson Whitehead, a professor of English who helped build the Creative Writing Program at the University of Arkansas into one of the finest in the nation, has died. He was 67.

He was taken to Washington Regional Medical Center on Friday, where he died. Doctors determined he had suffered a rupture of an aortic aneurysm. A visitation and memorial service are planned for this week.

A barrel-chested horse of a man, Whitehead was a tall slender professor when he came to Fayetteville in 1965 to join with Miller Williams and Bill Harrison in establishing a creative writing program at the university. He spent 35 years in the program as a teacher, administrator and writer, until his retirement in 1999.

During that time, he saw the program grow to national prominence and develop a reputation as one of the most competitive and productive workshops for young writers. His students today are novelists, poets and teachers of writing at universities across the country.

Friends and colleagues contacted Saturday afternoon remembered Whitehead as a large, shambling man with voracious intelligence and pugnacious humor.

"Big Jim," as he was called by friends, was an intense, animated talker who could weave poetry, theology and the Razorbacks into a single conversation, according to family members.

Miller Williams, a friend of Whitehead and another founder of the creative writing program, said Whitehead was clear and persuasive in the classroom. It wasn't enough that his students understood what he was saying, Williams said. They also had to understand where he was going.

Most of all, Williams said, he remembers Whitehead's sense of humor.

"The mood in a room could never stay very heavy for long with Jim there. He always found something amusing and ironic about most any human situation that made it easier to deal with," he said.

"If I had died first he would have found something amusing to say about it, and that delights me."

Collis Geren, dean of the Graduate School at the university, said Whitehead built the creative writing program into what is probably the highest-ranked graduate program at the university. Its students finish their studies on time and find work as writers, he said.

Although he retired from teaching in 1999, he continued to assist Writers in the Schools, a program that lends graduate students from the writing program to serve as teachers in public schools throughout Arkansas.

Whitehead won several awards and honors for both his teaching and his writing.

In 1976, the UA Alumni Association presented him a Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award for teaching. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his fiction and a Robert Frost Fellowship for his poetry.

His published collections of poetry include "Domains," "Local Men" and "Actual Size." He published a single novel during his career, "Joiner," which was named a Noteworthy Book of the Year by the New York Times in 1971.

Whitehead gave the Presentation Poem for President Jimmy Carter on Carter's return to Plains, Ga., in 1981, and he later edited President Carter's book of poems.

At the time of his death, Whitehead was completing a screenplay.

He was born on March 15, 1936, in St. Louis to Dick Bruun Whitehead and Ruth Ann Tillotson. He grew up in Mississippi and used a football scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University, from which he graduated with a bachelor's in philosphy and a master's in English.

He later earned a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa. While at Iowa, he told a panel discussion in 1984, he took to copying long-hand the short stories of Eudora Welty "because I thought they were the best things I could find. I don't think I imitate her, and I know I'm not getting close to being anything like as good, but I studied them that way."

His Southerness as a writer made it easy to write about the South, but it took awhile for him to find his local voice: "I lived in Fayetteville 10 years before I realized I could write about it. I was walking home one day and I said, 'By God, I know this town,'" he said.

Whitehead is survived by his wife, Gen; seven children and their spouses: Bruun Whitehead and Kim Willis of Annandale, Va.; Dr. Kathleen W. Paulson and George P. Paulson, of Fayetteville; Eric T. and Jennifer Whitehead of Overland Park, Kan.; and Joan and John Threet, Ted and Kelley Whitehead, Ruth and Kevin Trainor, and Philip and Kamron Whitehead, all of Fayetteville; 10 grandchildren; a brother, Jared Whitehead of Marietta, Ga.; and an aunt, Jean Davis of Wauwatosa, Wis.

Visitation with family will be held at Moore's Chapel at 206 W. Center Street in Fayetteville from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

A memorial service will be held at Giffels Auditorium in Old Main on the University of Arkansas campus at 2 p.m. Wednesday. A reception will follow.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to either "Writers in the Schools" or the Creative Writing Program at the University of Arkansas, c/o Molly Giles, English Department, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701.

From the poem "One for the Road," by James Whitehead.

Night full and the click of the lighter after love
is almost kind, and careless, too, like the laugh
I leave with the sullen bills. And that's the way
it is, if not the way it ought to be,
down this Memphis road . . .

October 2, 2003 in Obituaries, Photos | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Associated Press Obituary

James Whitehead

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - James Tillotson Whitehead, an award-winning poet who was known for his ability to write about the daily lives of ordinary people, died Friday of a ruptured aorta. He was 67.

Whitehead wrote poetry ranging in tone from despair to an account of an injury to his own funny bone, entitled "Humerus."

He also helped found the creative writing program at the University of Arkansas and taught at the university for 35 years until his retirement four years ago.

Whitehead published four books of poetry, "Domains," "Local Men," "Actual Size" and "Near at Hand," as well as a novel, "Joiner."

He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his fiction and a Robert Frost Fellowship for his poetry. His novel was named a Noteworthy Book of the Year by the New York Times in 1971.

October 2, 2003 in Obituaries | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack