- Nights under A Tin Roof: Recollections of a Southern Boyhood (poems), Yoknapatawpha (1982)
- Life after Mississippi (poems), Yoknapatawpha (1989)
- Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership (essays and poems), Morrow (1991)
- Confessions of an Accidental Businessman: It Takes a Lifetime to Find Wisdom
- Life & Work: A Manager’s Search for Meaning
- Real Power: Business Lessons from the Tao Te Ching
- The Servant Leader (2001)
- The Spirit of Retirement: Creating a Life of Meaning and Personal Growth (2002)
- The Book of Hard Choice (2006)
- Looking Around for God:The Oddly Reverent Observations of an Unconventional Christian (2007)
James A. Autry: A Biography by Kimberly Hill (SHS)
James A. Autry, also known as Big Shelby by his country relatives, was born in 1933 in Memphis, Tennessee, but he grew up in Benton County, Mississippi, somewhere between Hickory Flat and Ashland, Mississippi. He is the son and grandson of Baptist ministers; and his mother was painter. His brother Ronald also has written a book. Although Autry went to schools in the city, he was influenced by people of the Pine Grove Church and Abel’s Store community from whom he learned the values, rituals, and sense of communication that have been present from generation to generation.
After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford and worked as a reporter, photographer, musician, student tutor, copy boy, farm hand, teletype operator, and several other jobs to pay his tuition. After graduating from the University of Mississippi in journalism, he served as a jet fighter pilot in the Air Force in France for four years. After he completed his Air Force service, Autry entered the newspaper business and moved on to magazines. Autry’s career has lead him to many prominent positions. He has worked for Better Homes and Gardens, starting as a copy and manager editor and working his way up within twenty-five years to become editor in chief. He is now retired from magazine publishing for Meredith Corporation. He married Sally Joanne Pederson, also a writer, editor,and former Iowa lieutenant governor. They have three children: James A. Autry Jr., Richard R. Autry, and Ronald P. Autry.
Autry writes much of his poetry on airlines in which he spends many hours a year in his present job. He says, “I keep thinking how disconnected it is to travel by jetliner. That technological womb with its inhumanity made me think about Greyhound buses in Mississippi. Some of the first poems come from those thoughts.”
Autry has won many awards and honors. He was named distinguished alumnus and elected to the Alumni Hall of Fame at University of Mississippi in 1981. Later in 1990 he won the Headliner Award, Women in Communications. In 1991 he received a Litt.D. from William Jewell College. Also in 1991, Autry received the Missouri Medal of Honor for distinguished service in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Presently James Autry lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his wife, Sally. Although now miles from Mississippi, Autry still maintains strong friendships and family connections in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia.
His work, Real Power: Business Lessons from the Tao Te Ching, is written with Stephen Mitchell, the bestselling translator of the Tao Te Ching. They write the first book revealing how to use the wisdom of this ancient text to understand the most valued and elusive prize in business: power. In addition, James Autry has started work on Virtues of the Heart, a collection of enlightening stories for adults and children; and I Am The Man, a satirical novel about business.
Autry is dedicated to good business and good writing. His writings are not only entertaining but stay in the reader’s mind. He was selected by Bill Moyers as one of the modern day poets to be interviewed for Moyers’s The Language of Life series, which won an Emmy. The distinctive Southern voice of James Autry will continue to be enjoyed by readers as he returns to his Mississippi roots in his poetry and his other writings.
UPDATE : James Autry has now published ten books. See Major Works above for titles. He has worked to establish service journalism chairs at the University of Missouri and the University of Mississippi, where he was named a Distinguished Alumnus and was elected to the Alumni Hall of Fame.
James Autry, now 81 in 2014, lives with his wife in Des Moines, Iowa.
A Review of Nights under a Tin Roof: Recollections of a Southern Boyhood
by Kimberly Hill (SHS)
The book Nights under a Tin Roof by James Autry is loaded with poems of good times and poems of bad times. Unfolded therein is life as Autry knew it when he was growing up in Mississippi. From “Communication” to “Genealogy,” “The Snakes,” and “Death in the Family,” we all know these phases of life.
Most of his poems contain someone from his “Genealogy” family tree. In “Communication” Aunt Callie hollers over the hills at Cousin Lester, everyone hearing her but they just think she is just yelling. Aunt Callie would tell the “chirren” to “watch you’ll step on snakes in “The Snakes.” Then Uncle Vee would kill “The Snakes.” In “Death in the Family” people hug, cry, and say “She’s with Jesus now, no suffering where she is.” Autry’s characters and their actions and personalities paint a good picture of Autry’s early life in Mississippi as you read his poetry.
Autry’s poems are set in Mississippi during the 1940’s and 50’s. The title itself, Nights under a Tin Roof, tells part of the setting. Most of his poems’ settings relate to the area of or around this tin roof; events that took place as he sat, lay, and played on those nights as a Mississippi boy, adolescent, and then teenager.
Some of his poems contain dialect such as “chirren, ought, ‘un and yellin.” Some contain words of songs, “We’ll understand it better by and by” and “Shall we gather at the river, the beautiful ,the beautiful river?” He also uses actual photographs so the reader can see what he is writing about. Those pictures really add to his poetry and bring the reader into the poem. It is almost as if you can hear just what they are saying.
As I read about him, I found a quotation of Autry’s which sort of sums up the theme of all his poems. Autry says, “In examining old life, values are still valuable, rituals are more than chores, and activities and events not only punctuate time but define themselves.”
I really enjoyed James Autry’s book, Nights under a Tin Roof: Recollections of a Southern Boyhood as he told of life as he knew as a child growing up in Mississippi. Now James Autry’s poetry stands out vividly in my mind. Never forgetting his roots, Autry and his writings will continue to be admired, especially by Mississippians, but also by the many who consider him a true philosopher/businessman.
- James Autry’s official page
- Biography of Autry from Hellenic Communication
- Star Thrower lists program and information about Autry.
- Read the table of contents and Bill Moyers’ Foreword to Looking Around for God.
- Mississippi Writers: An Anthology. edited by Dorothy Abbott. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.
- Autry, James. Nights under a Tin Roof: Recollections of a Southern Boyhood, Oxford, MS: Yoknapatawpha Press, 1983.
- Autry, James. Life after Mississippi.
- Moyers, Bill. The Language of Life.
- Contemporary Authors. Vol. 135