Tuesday, February 24, 2015

From Brian Zarbock- a student of Jim's

Hello, my name is Brian Zarbock and I graduated from UNCC with an English degree last year. I went to the school website last night for a transcript request and ended up on the English Department website. That was the first time I heard about Dr. Jim McGavran and spent up until now reading about him, some of his writings, the memories people have shared on the memorial website and finally the emails, lecture notes and writing feedback  I had archived in my account from when I enrolled in his Romantic Era Literature Class. 

I first wanted to offer my condolences to you and the English department. I was amazed when I read he had been teaching English for forty years. I cannot imagine how I would feel after knowing someone that long and they are just gone one day. 

I also wanted to thank all of you for the memorial site; Dr. McGavran meant a great deal to me, when I found out last night I just panicked that I never thanked him for the time he set aside for me. Reading those posts showed me he was surrounded by life long friends and people that appreciated him.

Finally I have moved from North Carolina to California since graduating and I saw there was an event in his honor on Friday on campus. If there are any pictures taken at the event or anything similar I appreciate knowing where to look. I hope all is well with you guys and thanks for everything you do. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sam Watson (to Anita Moss)

Hey, Anita.

When it comes to the “early years” (1973+) at UNCC, my mind is surprisingly blank of specific memories. I do know that in ’73, five of us “assistant profs” came in, the biggest “recruiting year” the Department had seen. Jim of course, Marion Brashear, Byron Petrakis, me, , , , for the life of me I can’t remember who the fifth one was(!)

Of Jim’s life in general, it seems to me the most accurate distillation is a sentence from one of John Keats’ letters, the one where Keats declares himself sure only of “the truth of the imagination and the holiness of the heart’s affections.”

Blessings to you, Anita. I’ll see you Friday.


Monday, February 16, 2015

From Judy Suther (written to Anita Moss)

Here's a reminiscence that I think is funny and is  typically Jim.  

When I taught 20th-century French theatre at UNC Charlotte, I always had the students perform a one-act or a scene from a longer play.  The performance I remember best had Jim in it, which is why I remember it.  He played the role of Train Conductor on the Paris metro in Les amants du metro by Jean Tardieu, usually translated into English as Underground Lovers.  The students could handle the role of passengers, the Lovers, because the lines are written and can be memorized.  The Conductor, however, has no set lines.  Tardieu's stage directions instruct him to improvise in the style of a music hall impresario.   A role obviously meant for Jim.

Essentially, Jim's job was to elaborate on the already long list of prohibitions posted in every French train before the era of the TGV (high-speed or so-called bullet trains).  Don't lean out the window, don't break the window, don't smoke in the corridors, don't smoke cigars period, don't spit on the floor, don't touch the heat control lever, don't pull the emergency cord unless someone dies in your compartment, don't sit here unless you're a disabled veteran, don't sit there unless you're pregnant.  Like every visitor to France in a certain era and, I suspect, most French people with a sense of humor, Jim thought these prohibitions were hilarious.  He was thrilled at the chance to intone them in his best baritone and then invent silly variants that usually rhymed.  The one I couldn't get out of my head for years, and still can't, is "Ne crachez pas par terre dans la presence de ta mere" (Don't let your mama catch you spitting on the floor).  He'd run up and down the stage-set aisle of the metro compartment admonishing the passengers, the Lovers, not to do these things, when all they wanted to do was sit in each other's laps and smooch.

If the play is "about" anything, it's about the imperviousness of bureaucracies to people's real lives.  Or the absurd disconnect between a legalistic pronouncement and a human being.  I think the students got it, no high-flown theory needed.  They got it mainly because Jim performed the disconnect--in the excellent French he learned in Bordeaux, in his rollicking music hall persona, and as one of them.  A fellow student.  He loved the role, he loved the students, and they loved him.  

So that's my Jim memory.  I like this one because it highlights his gifts as a teacher, even when he's being silly, playing a comic role in an acquired language.  

Dear Anita, I don't want to think of all the talent, all the wit, all the generous humanity gone, gone....



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

From Susan Gardner

From: Susan Gardner (to Deje)

Dear Deje,
                  I’m finding it very hard to take in Jim’s death, and if I feel that way, you and your family must feel a hundred fold more sadness. You are a strong and gracious woman, whom I admire as much as I admired Jim. I admired your marriage.

                  I’ve been lost in thought as I recall my memories of him. He was one of the first colleagues to welcome me in 1990, and our relationship was truly collegial as we both took interest in the other’s work: children’s literature, British literature, feminist literature, and, towards the end, nature writing. I loved his first memoir, and encouraged him to follow it up. We discussed if he wanted to write about Pilot Mountain, and I visited one of his classes to discuss American Indian knowledge of nature and landscape. (Jeff Meyer also spoke, about Chinese nature concepts). I also remember his solo singing and piano playing. We also discussed retirement, and his, I know, would have been fulfilling and enriching.

                  When my mother died in Jan. 2012 from injuries in a house fire, I was swamped with condolences, a flood of cards with butterflies, flowers, beautiful sunsets and so on. I was overwhelmed by people’s concern, which helped me to “get through it.” But I don’t think anything can really mend a broken heart, just to ease it. Even after three years of being motherless, I still occasionally want to call or email her about books, our mutual passion.

                  What a very sad holiday season this must have been for you. But I also admire your courage, and I will never forget him.

From: Jessica R. M. Schley

From: Jessica R. M. Schley (jschley@novanthealth.org)

Dr. McGavran was a kindred spirit. He was a precious man and certainly honest. He sat me down when I was in grad school and in the sweetest way possible, told me: "Jessica, you aren't an academic, but you're certainly a creative writer." I was still so bent on getting a PhD, and it would be years before I let go of that dream and focused more intently on my writing. I took three classes with him over the course of my undergrad / graduate days at UNCC, and one was a directed reading on Jane Austen. You gotta love a man who loved Lizzie Bennett as much as he did.

I wrote a screenplay for him, a modern adaption of Sense and Sensibility. Maybe other teachers would have scoffed at the fact that I set it in West Virginia. Dr. McGavran loved it. He would often say: "Others might think you're ditzy Jessica, but I just think your brilliant." I loved this though I never considered myself ditzy. Maybe it was because I was always trying to write about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in his Romantic Era Literature class. In any case, for a man like him to say something like that to me, well, it gave me so much confidence to continue working on my writing.

Just a few months back he was kind enough on his summer vacation to look at some chapters of something I've been working on. His feedback was honest and helpful. He always made time to meet, even just to sign his book for me that I read and cried through because it was such a touching reflection of his childhood and of losing his parents which I can relate to. He was not afraid of being a sensitive man. He often cried in class when he was reciting certain lines of literature. The first time this happened it was so difficult for me, someone very use to keeping my emotions tightly wound up and hidden. But then I learned to really admire him for his ability to feel his emotions so openly, especially in relation to the written word which has always been and always will be so important to me. Dr. McGavran I love you so and I'll miss you. You encouraged a girl from West Virginia to own my experiences and use them as a means to find language that would help all of it make sense. I can't wait to continue our conversations of Charlotte Smith, Wordsworth, and Austen when I am in heaven someday.

Jessica R. M. Schley

Monday, December 29, 2014

From Jay Jacoby

From: Jay Jacoby (jbjacoby@uncc.edu)

My wife, Marlene, and I were stunned when Sandy Govan called us on December 21 to tell us of Jim's sudden and unexpected passing.  We are still stunned.

Having completed a 27 year stint at UNCC in 2005 and then retiring to Asheville, we have not maintained very close contact with many of my former colleagues.  But Jim and Deje were among those with whom we did stay in touch, and we saw them whenever they visited the mountains.  Jim and I did not always share the same literary sensibilities (when I first proposed a course in Jewish-American literature he wanted to know if we should also offer a course in Episcopalian-American lit) or dispositions (as so many of you have pointed out, Jim was perennially cheerful while I often harbored a much darker, more ironic outlook).  I can say that Jim was among the best of my mentors at UNCC--helping with my adjustment to students who were quite different from those I encountered in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.  I envied his boundless enthusiasm, generous goodwill, and optimism.  He was a great colleague and friend, whether it came to teaching (he certainly made the 3-year-long NEH Literature Project a bright spot for me and other colleagues), committee work, or faculty governance and administration (Jim and I spent a few years together in the Rowe building as interim chairs of the Art and Dance/Theatre departments).

One of my last memories of Jim was a dinner we had together a few years ago at a French restaurant in Asheville prior to his giving a reading at Malaprop's Bookstore.  I had finally begun to feel comfortable in my retirement, being liberated from the paper load, endless meetings, and campus politics.  Though five years younger than Jim, there I was singing the praises of an unencumbered retired lifestyle.  Jim responded by saying that he just couldn't imagine for himself a life outside of academia.  Jim spoke passionately and energetically  about all that he was doing (his memoir had recently been published/he was getting ready to teach a new course in creative non-fiction) and he said that he had not given a thought to retirement.  Somehow, I regret that Jim didn't get an opportunity to try out retirement.  But I don't think that Jim would share this regret.  And I envy him all the more for this.  Jim will be deeply missed.

Jay Jacoby, UNCC English faculty member from 1978-2005.        

Sunday, December 28, 2014

From: Christina Milliner (née Renee):

Transferring to UNC Charlotte was a great experience for me. Especially coming from a small community college. I was excited to be studying English and looked forward to all the great literature I would read and learn about in UNCC's English Department. During my  2 1/2 years at UNCC, I had the pleasure of taking two English classes with Dr. McGavran. One was English 2402 and the other English 4120 (for both classes I still have my final papers). 

In these classes, I learned a lot from Dr. McGavran and it was his courses that introduced me to Mary Wollstonecraft. I always enjoyed class with Dr. McGavran because he was such a lovely person with a passionate personality. His love for literature and the great authors showed in his teachings. Dr. McGavran was also one of the first professors I gave my short story cycle to read. His insightful feedback and encouragement is what helped pushed me to continue writing these stories. I was truly hurt to hear of his passing and give my deepest condolences to his family, friends, and the UNCC Family.  He was one of my favorite professors at UNC Charlotte and will be missed.