Watch: Also Honored,
James W. Clark, Jr.
(read at the 2015 North Carolina Writers Conference in Washington, NC, 25 July 2015, by Alex Albright)
Even though I cannot be in Washington today I’m delighted, indeed honored, to join in the Conference’s salute to Jim Clark. No one—no one--is more deserving of our praise and our thanks for good work in promoting the study of this state’s literature, history, and folklore and in teaching and encouraging others to try their hand at creative writing, autobiography, and memoir writing than Jim. He has spent a lifetime personally studying the humanities and has built a remarkable career developing opportunities for others to seek the more meaningful and fulfilling lives that the humanities offer us.
But, Margaret, before we go further I am going to ask you to do something. Jim Clark is one of the most modest, self-effacing high achievers I know. Regardless of his central role in successful projects—or his effectiveness as a teacher—or his skill as an administrator and organization leader, he directs the attention and praise to those he has guided, taught, or led. He places them on the stage, directs the spotlight towards them and their accomplishments. We have two other Jim Clarks in the Conference, both award winning writers and teachers and administrators who are also praiseworthy. Margaret, please make sure that the Jim Clark we are saluting this afternoon has not somehow tricked one of our other Jim Clarks into taking his place in the spotlight today.
It is impossible to describe in just a few minutes Jim’s many accomplishments. Teacher, scholar, academic administrator, writer/editor, documentary film producer, organization leader—he has, through his good works, enriched the lives of thousands and thousands of his fellow Tar Heels. His fans and admirers are legion. Any truly ambitious politician or telemarketer would pay big bucks for access to Jim’s network of friends and collaborators. Indeed, I expect that many, if not most, Conference attendees have had some connection with Jim over the years when he was acting in one or more of the above mentioned capacities.
Jim doesn’t believe in boundaries and rigid roles when it comes to the study and teaching of the humanities. Indeed, his ecumenical attitude is deep-rooted.
Perhaps this comes from his personal experience in higher education. Jim earned his undergraduate degree in English at UNC-Chapel Hill, then journeyed a few miles east to pursue a doctorate in English among the devils. Don’t laugh. Duke folks proudly boast of being the “Blue Devils.” I say call ‘em what they want to be called.
Then in 1967, Jim traveled twenty miles farther east and began what would become a 38-year career as professor of English at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He has been a loyal and effective supporter of and advocate for each of his three universities. Given his tact and diplomatic talents, for four decades now he has navigated skillfully the often dangerous waters of ACC basketball. Many a friendship has been severely strained, sometimes even lost, in North Carolina, because of the passions unleashed by basketball mania. But Jim has recognized that he has an advantage and used it well. When any one of his three Big Four teams would win, he could reinforce his relationships with jubilant alumni of that winning school by joining in their “We won! We won!” chants. And as for that fourth Big Four school—Wake Forest—well, alas, we Wake alums acknowledge that of late we’ve not been too much of a threat on the basketball court. So from the ever-thoughtful, politic Jim, we’re most likely to get “Good game. Maybe next year.”
Let me get back to the topic—why we are saluting Jim Clark today. As a professor of English at NC State, Jim encouraged an enthusiasm for literature in countless students. Many a high school English teacher around the state will tell you how important Jim was to her or him in developing a passion for teaching. At State, Jim won numerous teaching, research, and extension awards. In 1984 he published Clover all Over, a history of 4-H in North Carolina. In 2011, he brought out a revised and expanded 348-page edition of this history to mark 4-H’s 100th anniversary in the state.
Jim’s literary scholarship has included editing Thomas Wolfe’s The Lost Boy: A Novella, published by UNC Press in 1994, the first unabridged, non-serial publication of this work. In 1999, in recognition of Jim’s many services to NC State the University’s Board of Trustees presented him the Alexander Q. Holladay Medal, which is given for professional excellence. More recently, in 2012, he received the University’s William C. Friday Award for Distinguished Service in Retirement.
In 1993, Jim added the directorship of the University’s Humanities Extension Program to his classroom teaching responsibilities. In this role, he planned and coordinated the presentation of programs, workshops, and learning opportunities for citizens in all corners of the state—a laudable, much-appreciated, and most appropriate service to the people of North Carolina by its largest university—a land grant university doing what it is especially well positioned to do—connecting higher education and the general citizenry. Under Jim’s leadership, the Humanities Extension Program produced important, often award-winning publications, such as a bicentennial history of Raleigh and a study of Person County folklore—and several documentary films. If you have not seen Their Native Earth: A Celebration of North Carolina Literature or the documentary on Thomas Wolfe’s roots in Asheville that Jim and his colleagues produced, then your assignment after you return home tomorrow is to do so. In fact, this thought just came to me. We should consider showing these at a future North Carolina Writers Conference. Jim and his colleagues also published a superb collection of social studies textbooks designed to help North Carolina students better understand the broader world and their place in it.
While fulfilling his duties with the University, Jim Clark has also been a leader in public and community service. He has continued, even increased, his contributions to organizations and good causes since his retirement from State in 2005. For example, he has been or currently is:
I could continue with other examples but will not since I want to conclude by noting Jim’s post-retirement volunteer work with NC State’s Encore Center for Lifelong Enrichment. Jim is one of the most popular and regular volunteer instructors in this program, usually teaching 2-3 noncredit short courses each year. Renamed the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in 2014, this program offers on-campus courses, study trips, special events, and extracurricular activities for adults aged 50 and over. One season you might find Jim leading a study trip examining literary-related sites across North Carolina. The next season he might be guiding a group around Chicago or rural Pennsylvania.
The North Carolina Writers Conference evolved out of an effort in 1950 by several writers to show their support for their fellow writer Paul Green and his The Lost Colony symphonic drama. Those who journeyed to Manteo to attend the drama had such a good time that they began gathering each summer at various locations around the state. Jim Clark epitomizes this spirit of support and encouragement of other writers as well as anyone I know. Through his teaching, scholarship, academic administrative work, and public and community service, he has enriched the lives of thousands of his fellow Tar Heels. He’s been the Johnny Appleseed of the humanities in this state. So thank you to the North Carolina Writers Conference for saluting him this weekend. Turn the bright spotlight on him and applaud. He’ll squirm a bit but that’s not fatal. In fact, I’ll bet you that Monday morning he’ll be back doing his good works.
Thank you, Jim.
—Robert B. Anthony,
Curator, North Carolina Collection, Universitiy Library, UNC Chapel Hill