Western Man of Letters: Selected Writings of Jack H. Adamson

In its “Notable Books of 1969,” the New York Times listed works by such renowned writers and thinkers as Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Kurt Vonnegut, and Erik Erikson. Also on the list was a book entitled Shepherd of the Ocean, a biography of Sir Walter Ralegh by Jack H. Adamson (and co-author Harold F. Folland).

The aim of this website is to highlight Jack Adamson’s talent as a writer and thinker and to suggest, perhaps audaciously, that he was not out of place in such eminent company.

A professor of English at the University of Utah, Jack Hale Adamson died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1975 at the age of 57. A popular teacher, respected scholar, and noted public speaker throughout his career, he was just beginning to earn recognition as a writer. His biography of Sir Harry Vane, also co-authored with Harold Folland, was nominated for the National Book Award in 1974.

Throughout his career, he was a prolific writer and public speaker.  And he was a man of letters in the broadest sense in which that term can be understood:  He was at home in multiple modes of writing:  biography, literary analysis, poetry, essays on current affairs, letters, op-eds, public speeches for all occasions–particularly eulogies and commencement addresses–and even dedicatory prayers. Though most of this work was published in his lifetime, some of it was not.

This website, timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of his death, is an  attempt to rectify this. In the coming days, I will be posting writings both published and unpublished from Jack’s files, including articles, book chapters, speeches, letters, commentaries, interviews, journals, and poems.

I believe these writings still hold interest for three main reasons.  First, they cast a vivid light on America and her mood in the turbulent 1960s and early 70s, when old assumptions and certainties were being called into question.   Second, the writings meditate on fundamental political, moral, and aesthetic questions that go far beyond the focus of traditional academic literary studies and that remain important today.  How should America view its role in the world?  What is the university’s role in society?  What is the purpose of scholarship?  How should we think about the value of the arts in everyday life?  Third, they shed light, most of it indirect, on the mind and the life of Jack Adamson.  It is this third reason that I hope to explore in the most depth with you in the coming months.

–David Adamson