Monday, December 22, 2014

From: Professor Mark West

In Honor of Jim McGavran — For forty-one years, Jim McGavran taught in the Department of English at UNC Charlotte, but sadly his long career came to an end with his unexpected death from a massive stroke on December 20, 2014.  However, his presence will be felt in the English Department and the broader UNC Charlotte community for many years to come.

Dr. James Holt McGavran, Jr., as he was known to those who knew him through his published scholarship, joined the English Department in the fall of 1973, shortly after completing his PhD in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Prior to beginning his doctoral work, he had received a BA from the College of Wooster in 1963 and an MA from Columbia University in 1965.    

Throughout his teaching career at UNC Charlotte, Jim taught a wide variety of courses in British literature, but he especially enjoyed teaching courses on the English Romantics.  Over the years, Jim also developed new courses.  Early in his career, he took an interest in the relationship between literature and film.  He and a colleague team-taught one of the department's first courses in the area of film studies.  He also created an interdisciplinary graduate seminar titled "The Idea of Nature."  In recent years, he delved into the field of creative nonfiction, and he taught several courses on this topic.  From the very beginning of his career, his students and colleagues recognized Jim's extraordinary dedication to teaching.  His gifts as a teacher resulted in many awards and recognitions, including the Bank of America Teaching Excellence Award in 2006 and the UNC Board of Governors Teaching Excellence Award in 2007.

In addition to being a gifted teacher, Jim achieved success as a scholar.  He published numerous articles on the English Romantics.  He developed a particular interest on the relationship between the Romantic Movement and children's literature, and he edited three important collections on this topic:  Literature and the Child:  Romantic Continuations, Postmodern Contestations (University of Iowa Press, 1999); Romanticism and Children's Literature in Nineteenth-Century England (University of Georgia Press, 1991); and Time of Beauty, Time of Fear:  The Romantic Legacy in the Literature of Childhood (University of Iowa Press, 2012).  Jim's interest in creative nonfiction is reflected in the publication of his memoir, In the Shadow of the Bear:  A Michigan Memoir (Michigan State University Press, 2010).

Throughout his career at UNC Charlotte, Jim took seriously his role as a University citizen.  He played a variety of leadership roles in the English Department including a term as the English Graduate Coordinator, but he also performed important service roles beyond the English Department.  He served as the Faculty President in 1987-1988, and he held the position of Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1988 through 1993.  He also served as the Interim Chair of the Department of Dance and Theatre from 2000 through 2002.

A listing of Jim's degrees, awards, publications, and positions, although impressive, does not capture Jim's passions.   In some ways, the pictures taped to his office door better reflect the real Jim than does a listing of his accomplishments.  In keeping with Jim's playful approach to life, there is a picture of Kermit the Frog in the middle of the door.  Jim's wry sense of humor is reflected in the Doonsebury cartoon taped next to Kermit.  Surrounding Kermit are beautiful images of flowers and other scenes from nature, which is fitting given Jim's passion for the natural world.  At the top of the door there is a photograph of a man climbing a cliff.  Upon close inspection, one realizes that the man in the photograph is Jim.  As his door proclaims, Jim took joy in life, embraced nature, and was always ready to climb the next cliff, for he knew that when he reached the top he would be able to see for miles around.  I trust that he is enjoying the view.

Sincerely yours,

Mark I. West, Ph.D.
Professor of English and Department Chair

1 comment:

  1. 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 loves Lizzie Bennett as much as you do. 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.

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