Project Overview

Jack Adamson in his office, Orson Spencer Hall, U of U., ca. 1973.
Jack Adamson in his office, Orson Spencer Hall, U of U., ca. 1973.

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 project/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 In the coming days, I will be posting writings both published and unpublished from Jack’s files, including articles, book chapters, speeches, letters, commentaries, interviews, journals, and poems.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, editor (Jack’s youngest son)

5 thoughts on “Project Overview

  1. I was a student of Dr. Adamson from 1959 to 1961. I loved his classes … he made everything come alive.

    Even after all these years (I’m 84), he remains my favorite from the U. Of U.


    1. Dear Verna: It is so special to hear from you! Thanks for your comment! I’d love to learn more about your experiences with Jack as a professor. By any chance do you remember the course names? And (even more unlikely) have you saved your lecture notes for these many years? My two brothers and I are always interested in hearing from people who knew Jack in this capacity. I was 18 when he passed away, and never saw him teach, I’d like my two sons to know more about the kind of man he was.

      I hope you’re doing well. Are you in SLC?

      My very best, David


      1. I am living in Northern California. The only course names I recall are a class on the Bible and one or perhaps two on 17th Century literature. I know there were more classes but I can’t recall the names. I had always been an honors student but had never done well in history classes, but Dr. Adamson made history so relevant as we learned about 17th century lit.

        I was married and pregnant as I finished my senior year, and didn’t always feel well. He was very kind to me and also made little jokes. I was thrilled when he handed me my diploma and said, “Congratulations, Mrs. Schaffer, you made it.”


  2. Verna, thank you so much for sharing those previous memories. Information like yours means so much to me and the rest of the Adamsons. I know that those subjects were his favorites to teach. He was a scholar back in the day when a literature professor was naturally expected to be steeped in history as well as philosophy and the history of ideas. Those days are gone, sadly. Thank you again for sharing these memories. I will cherish these. I will create a compilation of these and put them in a file on this site.



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