Born in Byrdstown, Tennessee, midway between Music City and the Smoky Mountains, Jim Clark grew up on a farm on the Cumberland Plateau surrounded by music – from the plain, unadorned, a capella harmonies of the Church of Christ, to the old-time country of his father’s guitar and mandolin playing. Majoring in English at Vanderbilt University, he was much influenced by the legacy of the Fugitives and Agrarians—poets such as Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, and Allen Tate, noted for their focus on the connection between literature and the land and their scathing criticism of the modern industrial mindset. He continued his education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he received an M.F.A. in creative writing, and the University of Denver, where he received his Ph.D. in modern literature and creative writing.
Pursuing a balance between the creative and the scholarly, Clark has published two books of poems, Dancing on Canaan’s Ruins and Handiwork; written a play, The Girl with the Faraway Eye, staged at the Portland Actors Conservatory Theatre, Portland, Oregon; edited Fable in the Blood: The Selected Poems of Byron Herbert Reece; and served as an editor of such literary journals as The Denver Quarterly, The Greensboro Review, and The Vanderbilt Poetry Review. His most recent book is Notions: A Jim Clark Miscellany.
Much in demand as a reader of his own work and a workshop leader, Clark nevertheless felt something was missing in his professional life. So, in 1995, he began combining his talents as a singer and musician with his abilities as a writer and an interpreter of his own work, resulting in a unique multi-disciplinary performance of poetry and stories rooted in the Appalachian foothills of his birth and complementary old-time mountain music played on the guitar, banjo, mountain dulcimer, and autoharp. This cross-fertilization of genres culminated in Buried Land, a CD recorded in 2003 featuring original poems and traditional folk music, much of it related to the flooding of his parents’ family farms in Clay County, Tennessee, in the 1940s by the TVA Dale Hollow Dam project. He has since recorded three folk-rock/Americana CDs with his band The Near Myths: Wilson (2005), Words to Burn (2008), and . . . and into the flow (2013). In 2010 Clark released his second solo CD, The Service of Song, featuring his musical settings of poems by north Georgia “farmer-poet” Byron Herbert Reece.
Clark is currently the Elizabeth H. Jordan Professor of Southern Literature and Dean of the School of Humanities at Barton College, in Wilson, North Carolina, where he is Director of The Barton College Creative Writing Symposium and an editor of the literary journal Crucible.