- Domains (poetry)
- Local Men (poetry)
- Actual Size (poetry)
- Near at Hand (poetry)
- Joiner (novel)
James Tillotson Whitehead was born on March 15, 1936, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Dick Bruun Whitehead and Ruth Ann Tillotson. He moved with his family after World War II to Jackson, Mississippi, where he attended Liberty Grove Elementary School and Bailey Junior High School. After playing football for Central High School in Jackson, he received a four-year football scholarship to Vanderbilt University where he earned both a B. A. and a M.A. Known to his friends as “Big Jim” because of his height of six foot six inches, Whitehead had entertained thoughts of a career as a professional football player, but an injury while playing football at Vanderbilt ended that idea. Whitehead then intended to be a minister in the Presbyterian Church, so he majored in philosophy. However, he later decided that his true calling was to be a creative writing teacher and a poet, so he earned a master’s in English from Vanderbilt before going to the University of Iowa where he earned a MFA in Creative Writing.
Whitehead began teaching at the University of Arkansas in 1965 and taught and wrote there for thirty-five years. Together with Miller Williams and William Harrison, he founded the nationally- recognized Creative Writing program at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Whitehead published four books of poetry and one novel called Joiner about a Southerner named Sonny Joiner, a former football player who is intellectual and passionate about theology, history, politics, literature and sports. Joiner made the New York Times’ Noteworthy Books of the Year list for 1971. Whitehead gave the Presidential Poem for President Jimmy Carter on his return to Plains, Ga., in 1981, and later edited his book of poems.
James Whitehead married Guendaline Graeber of Yazoo City on August 15, 1959, and together they raised seven children, including a set of triplets. They were married for forty-four years. Whitehead died on August 16, 2003, of a ruptured aortic aneurism on their wedding anniversary at the age of sixty-seven.
Among the literary awards Whitehead received are a Guggenheim Fellowship in Fiction and a Robert Frost Fellowship in Poetry. His novel, Joiner, was on the New York Time’s Noteworthy Books of the Year list for 1971. He gave the Presentation Poem for President Jimmy Carter on his return to Plains, Georgia, in 1981, and later edited President Carter’s book of poems. At the time of his death, Whitehead was completing a screenplay on the life of the First Century Roman soldier Tiberius Julius Abderus Pantera. Among the many writers who consider James Whitehead a friend and mentor are Mississippians Barry Hannah, Steve Yarbrough, Steve Yates and Sidney Thompson.
- Gifted writer, instructor James Whitehead dies at 67 Aug. 16, 2003 by Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi).
- James Whitehead, 67, Author of ‘Joiner,’ Novel of Deep South. New York Times (2003)
- Black, Patti Carr and Marion Barnwell. Touring Literary Mississippi. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002. 92,93.
- “James Whitehead Obituary.” The Clarion-Ledger. August 17, 2003.
- James Whitehead, 67, Author of ‘Joiner,’ Novel of Deep South, Dies. New York Times Obituary for Jim Whitehead. August 20, 2003