Born: April 14, 1935
Died: June 25, 2009
James Baker Hall was a versatile talent, excelling as a poet, novelist, short story writer, and photographer. He also was a consummate teacher for more than 30 years (1973-2003) in the University of Kentucky English Department, where he also served as director of the creative writing program.
Hall was one of the “fabulous five” Kentucky writers who studied creative writing under the noted novelist and poet Robert Hazel at the University of Kentucky. (The others were: Bobbie Ann Mason, Wendell Berry, Gurney Norman, and Ed McClanahan.) Hall once said Hazel encouraged his students to “escape the provincialism of their heritage” by leaving Kentucky. Hall did just that, living in Paris, France and on both coasts of the United States. He also studied at Stanford University as a Wallace Stegner Fellow in the 1960s alongside Larry McMurtry and Ken Kesey.
Before coming to UK, Hall taught poetry and photography at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1970s. He was fond of telling the story that MIT needed a poetry instructor and he began teaching the course without ever having written a poem. He went on to become one of the most accomplished poets in Kentucky, eventually serving as the Commonwealth’s Poet Laureate (2001-2002). Hall authored several volumes of poetry, and his poems were published individually in many journals and magazines, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, The American Poetry Review and The Kenyon Review.
Hall lectured in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design, The Visual Workshop, and the Minneapolis Museum of Art. He became a close friend of such accomplished photographers as Minor White, Richard Benson, and Ralph Eugene Meatyard. He also served as contributing editor for the prestigious photography magazine Aperture.
Hall received his B.A. from the University of Kentucky in 1957 and his M.A. at Stanford University in 1961. At Stanford, he studied under such luminaries as Malcolm Cowley and Frank O’Connor. He received an NEA Fellowship in Poetry (1980),and won the Pushcart (1983) and O. Henry prizes (1967). Additionally, he was awarded a Southern Arts Federation Photography Fellowship (1993) and a Kentucky Arts Council Al Smith Fellowship (1986).
When Hall died in 2009, hundreds attended his memorial service at the Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning on July 11, 2009.
Yates Paul, His Grand Flights, His Tootings (Novel). Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Co., 1963; Cassell & Co., 1964; University Press of Kentucky, 2002.
Getting it on Up to the Brag (Poetry). Monterey, KY: Larkspur Press, 1975.
Ralph Eugene Meatyard. New York: Aperture, 1974.
Minor White: Rites and Passages. New York: Aperture, 1978.
Her Name (Poetry). Marqesan, WI: Pentagram Press, 1982.
Music for a Broken Piano (Poetry). Brooklyn, NY: Fiction Collective, 1982.
Stopping on the Edge to Wave (Poetry). Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988.
Fast Signing Mute (Poetry). Monterey, KY: Larkspur Press, 1992.
Orphan in the Attic. Lexington: University of Kentucky Art Museum, 1995.
The Mother on the Other Side of the World. Louisville, KY: Sarabande Books, 1999.
A Spring-Fed Pond. Kentucky: Crystal Publications, 2000.
Praeder’s Letters (Novel in Verse). Louisville, KY: Sarabande Books, 2002.
The Total Light Process: New and Selected Poems (Poetry). Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004.
Tobacco Harvest: An Elegy (Photography). Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004.
Pleasure (Poems & Images). Carrollton, OH: Press on the Scroll Road, 2007.
Pleasure (Poems & Photography). Carrollton, OH: Press on the Scroll Road, 2007.
Stanford Short Stories. Eds. Wallace Stegner and Richard Scowcroft. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962.
Prize Stories 1968 The O. Henry Awards. Ed. William Abrahams. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1968.
Kentucky Renaissance: An Anthology of Contemporary Writing. Ed. Jonathon Greene. Frankfort, KY: Gnomon Press: Kentucky, 1976.
50 Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process. Ed. Alberta T. Turner. Philadelphia, PA: David McKay Company, Inc., 1977.
Traveling America with Today’s Poets. Ed. David Kherdian. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1977.
The Pushcart Prize, VIII: Best of the Small Presses. Ed. Bill Henderson. New York: The Pushcart Press, 1983-1984.
Home Ground: Southern Autobiography. Ed. J. Bill Berry. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991.