James Hall leaves creative legacy behind

By Laura Clark

People walk through campus every day, but few will leave footprints as permanent as one professor.

Former UK English professor James Baker “Jim” Hall died at his home near Sadieville, Ky., on Thursday.  He was 74.

In addition to teaching at UK from 1973 to his retirement in 2004, Hall was a widely known artist, photographer, poet and author.  Hall served as Kentucky’s Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003.

“(Hall) was a very fine fiction writer, poet and master photographer,” said Gurney Norman, current Kentucky Poet Laureate and UK English professor.  “He was a remarkable Kentuckian and artist.”

Hall met Norman in 1957 when Hall was the student editor for the UK literary magazine Stylus.  However, their friendship didn’t take off until they were both awarded the Stegner Fellowship for fiction and creative writing at Stanford University in 1960, along with other distinguished Kentucky writers Wendell Berry and Ed McClanahan. Norman said they were always tied to Kentucky.

“The four of us all got lined up with these fellowships at Stanford … and spent several years out there in California,” Norman said.  “We’d get together and talk about Kentucky, and one by one, we all returned.”

For the next 40 years, Hall, Norman, Wendell, McClanahan and UK’s current Writer in Residence Bobbi Ann Mason remained close friends, constructing an impressive creative writing program for the university along the way.

When he served as Kentucky Poet Laureate, Hall said he wanted to show people that Kentucky is home to many writers and poets.

“There are a number of writers in the state with national and international reputations, dedicated authors whose work has been formed, at least in part, from living here… I want to help people understand that the art of poetry isn’t limited to any state borders,” Hall said in a 2001 article in the UK research magazine Odyssey.

After graduating from UK in 1957, Hall taught at Stanford University, universities in New York, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Connecticut.  At UK, Hall was the director of the Creative Writing program for 25 years.

“Hall was no ordinary teacher … he represented UK well all of his working life,” Norman said.  “He was one of those former students and then professor that left permanent impressions on the university.”

Hall is survived by his wife, Mary Ann Taylor-Hall; his three sons, Michael, Matthew and Larry; at least five grandchildren; and his sister, Ann.