Skip to main content

To Jim Coleman, with Appreciation, on His Retirement: 

“He’s written his books; now you write yours.” Professor James Coleman said that to me during my dissertation prospectus meeting as I outlined my plan to write a study of Charles Johnson’s fiction. At that point, no one had done a book on Johnson, and I was expressing my trepidation about working on a living writer. Professor Coleman, who had recently published a groundbreaking study of John Edgar Wideman’s fiction, offered me that bit of absolutely perfect, very freeing advice, and I thought of it often on the journey from that meeting to the publication of Charles Johnson’s Fiction in 2002.  I also thought often of the moments after my defense, when he shook my hand and said, “Congratulations.  You can call me Jim.” Although it took me a while to work up the nerve to actually do it, I appreciated the gesture and understood its significance.

Taken together, those two moments define the essence of Jim Coleman to me: a scholar who understood the power and significance of what we do as literary critics and a man who practiced egalitarianism within the community of individuals engaged in that valuable work. I feel fortunate to have learned from him in the first years he was at Carolina, and I am keenly aware of the depth and breadth of his impact on the profession through his work with subsequent generations of UNC students and colleagues. To borrow from Emerson, I am happy to add my greetings to him at the end of this phase of a brilliant career and wish him all the best!


William R. Nash, PhD ‘95

Professor, American Studies, Black Studies, and English

Middlebury College