Berry | Hall | Mason | McClanahan | Norman | TIMELINE

Profile
Interview:
• Part 1
• Part 2
Links
Photos

 

James Baker Hall
A Profile

James Baker Hall grew up in Lexington, KY, where he was a multi-sport star athlete at Henry Clay High School. With money he made from his paper route, he traveled to Paris at age 20. After finishing college back home at the University of Kentucky, he left for graduate work at Stanford, where he was later joined by fellow Kentuckians and UK alums Wendell Berry, Gurney Norman, and then Ed McClanahan.

Jim squeezed in a stay in Seattle between stints at Stanford. Later he settled in Storrs, CT, where he was joined by Gurney for a time and re-established ties with Bobbie Ann Mason, then a graduate student at the University of Connecticut. Jim is quick to give credit to UK writing professor Bob Hazel for encouraging young writers to explore the world before settling down to write about it:

“The one thing that Robert Hazel insisted upon that had an immediate and lasting effect on us all was that we get out of Kentucky,” he remembers. “We had to leave in order to escape the provincialism of our heritage. And what leaving Kentucky at that time meant more often than not, if not all the time, was New York. So we went somewhere.”

After leaving Connecticut, where he bluntly states that his life was in turmoil, Jim returned to Kentucky in the early 1970s as a writing professor at his alma mater. As a poet, photographer, and filmmaker, he has established himself as a major creative force in many fields, and in 2001 he was named to a two-year term as Kentucky’s Poet Laureate.

“I came back in 1973, after having been gone for 20 years or so ... and I found out after a number of years that I had very, very profound unfinished business here. But I didn’t know that when I came back,” Jim says. “And I stayed on because it’s my home. You don’t have to like your home, right? You only got one.”

—Tom Thurman