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Remembering Wade Hall, Educator and Advocate For Kentucky Literature

Andy Lamb/Creative Commons

One of Kentucky’s leading men of letters died Saturday at his home near Union Springs, Alabama.

Wade Hall, 81, had been in declining health for several years.

Hall made his name in Kentucky as a college English  professor and as a poet, essayist, critic, playwright and novelist.

He entered Troy State Teachers College in Alabama at 16 and would go on to have a prolific career, publishing dozens of books, hundreds of scholarly articles, poems, book reviews and interviews with writers and artists.

Hall was well-known to Louisville television audiences as a result of his weekly program, “Wade’s Hall’s Kentucky Desk,” which included interviews with other writers and artists. He also interviewed public figures like the late Courier-Journal publisher Barry Bingham Sr. and former Lt. Gov. Wilson W. Wyatt Sr. (Hall edited an oral history by Wyatt, "Complete Conviction," published by Bellarmine University Press, 1997.)

Hall came to Louisville in the 1960s to teach English at the old Kentucky Southern College, which merged with the University of Louisville. He then moved  to Bellarmine University in 1969, where he became a popular English professor and remained for more than three decades until his retirement.

“Wade was a rare professor whose classroom extended to his home and community, in what was a gesture of total commitment to his role, as well as a demonstration of his enthusiasm for learning and his generosity of spirit,” said Kathleen Lyons, a longtime colleague of Hall at Bellarmine. “He became as revered for the spaghetti dinners that he served his students as for his brilliant teaching, particularly in the field of American literature.”

For readers of The Courier-Journal, Hall’s byline was familiar and often present on the book page from the 1960s until he retired to Alabama in 2006. He tackled all manner of topics and authors. He particularly relished the opportunity to nurture young writers from the South and especially Kentucky. Among those whose work he admired were Gwen Rubio, Silas House, Sena Jeter Naslund, Dianne Aprile and Wendell Berry. But that’s just a short list.

“Through his work with and advocacy of Kentucky poets and writers Wade Hall established himself as a centrifugal force for literature in Kentucky and the South,” observed Charles Whaley, former Courier-Journal education editor and frequent book critic as well. “His editing of 'The Kentucky Anthology: 200 Years of Writing in the Bluegrass State,' published in 2005 by the University Press of Kentucky, was a monumental contribution.”

Lyons agreed: “As a scholar, Wade adopted Kentucky writers as a research interest, and he traveled the state in amassing what might be the most complete collection in existence of their works.”

He was editor of "The Kentucky Poetry Review," which enabled him to keep in close touch with authors and poets from the Bluegrass State, Lyons said. Hall was also chair of Bellarmine's Humanities Division and of the English Department.

Hall retired in 1999 and became professor emeritus, according to a release from Bellarmine University. He returned to Alabama with his longtime partner, Gregg Swem, in 2006, where he taught creative writing at a local high school and continued his own literary work.

Bellarmine President Joseph J. McGowan said Hall was a “legendary teacher, scholar and author.”

Hall also wrote biographies of civil right leaders Lyman T. Johnson and Mae Street Kidd. He frequently visited Alabama to collect stories for his work, including "Conecuh People: Words of Life from the Alabama Black Belt," a 1999 collection of oral histories that was later adapted into a long-running play in his hometown.

During his career, he collected more than 100,000 books, vintage postcards, Civil War documents and works of art. When Hall and Swem sold their Louisville home to move to Alabama nine years ago, he donated many of these items to universities and historical institutions, including the University of Kentucky and the University of Alabama.

His partner, Gregg Swem, survives him.

(Image via Creative Commons)


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