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James Whitehead, 67; Teacher Wrote Novel 'Joiner'

August 22, 2003|Times Staff and Wire Reports

James T. Whitehead, 67, author of the single but critically acclaimed novel "Joiner" set in rural Mississippi, died Friday in Fayetteville, Ark., of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

Born in St. Louis and raised in Jackson, Miss., Whitehead described coming-of-age intellectual and physical excesses in his 1971 novel through his alter ego hero, Sonny Joiner, a college football player and calculus teacher.

The towering, burly Whitehead had played football for Vanderbilt University, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees, and taught at Jackson's Millsaps College before graduating from the University of Iowa creative writing program. With poet and lifelong friend William Harrison, Whitehead started a similar program at the University of Arkansas and taught there until his retirement in 1999.

Aside from his novel, Whitehead prolifically described his beloved Southerners in highly praised, conversational-style sonnets. He published four books of poetry.

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