Index of Memorial Resolutions and Biographical Sketches

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IN MEMORIAM

SAMUEL GERALD LANGFORD

Samuel Gerald Langford, Professor Emeritus of English, died April 18, 2003. Jerry, as he was called by friends and family, came to The University of Texas in 1946 after service in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.

Jerry was born on October 20, 1911, in Montgomery, Alabama, and grew up in Savannah, Georgia, graduating from Savannah High School in June of 1929. With the assistance of a Dupont Scholarship, he attended the University of Virginia, which awarded him three degrees, B.A. (1933), M.A. (1934), and Ph.D. in English (1940). While completing his Ph.D., Jerry taught at the University of Kentucky, at North Carolina State College, and at Winthrop College. The focus of his graduate study was Renaissance English literature: he wrote his master’s thesis on revenge tragedy and his doctoral dissertation on John Barclay. At Virginia he also served as editor of The University of Virginia Magazine and actively pursued his interest in writing short fiction, publishing his first story while still an undergraduate in 1932. Many stories followed over the next three decades in such distinguished journals as The Georgia Review and The Prairie Schooner.

As Professor of English at The University of Texas, Jerry combined creative writing with literary scholarship. His daily pattern over many years was to teach in the morning, write in the afternoon, and grade papers in the evening. His scholarship was wide-ranging – from biography to textual criticism -- and never seemed to him essentially different from his creative writing. In an extended interview that appeared in the Austin American Statesman for October 29, 1961, Jerry remarked: “I don’t believe you can distinguish between creative writing and any other kind of writing. Any writer takes the raw materials of facts and experience from which he works, and perceives and interprets and uses his imagination.” It was on this principle that Jerry wrote the first scholarly biography of O. Henry, Alias O. Henry. A Biography of William Sidney Porter, published by Macmillan in 1957 and widely acclaimed. Thoroughly researched, providing new information about Porter’s early years as well as fresh, concrete evidence in assessing the embezzlement charge that sent Porter to prison, Jerry’s biography is the basis for all later studies of Porter’s life and work. There followed in rapid succession during the early 1960’s three more books: The Richard Harding Davis Years (1961), The Murder of Stanford White (1962), and Ingenue Among the Lions (1965), an edition of the letters of Emily Clark to Joseph Hergesheimer, published by The University of Texas Press.

While pursuing these studies of American life and letters and writing more short stories of his own, Jerry turned his attention to the William Faulkner collection in the Humanities Research Center. The results in the early 1970’s were two companion volumes assessing Faulkner’s creative process: Faulkner’s Revision of Absalom! Absalom! (1971) and Faulkner’s Revision of Sanctuary (1972), both published by The University of Texas Press. During the last decade before his retirement from full-time teaching, Jerry devoted himself to fiction, completing his remarkable novel Destination in 1981. Described by one of its first readers as “haunting” and “beautifully written,” Destination tells the story of Savannah native Lee Griffin, who returns home to find that his memories do not quite match the city’s realities.

When Griffin crosses Gaston Street and enters drowsing old Forsyth Park again, it could almost be his first visit. Yesterday he had eyes only for the big fountain ahead – a copy in white-painted iron of one in the Place de la Concorde. Today he takes his time, dutifully observant. The main promenade still tunnels beneath overarching oaks hung with streamers of gray moss, and the park is as implausible in its picturesqueness as a stage setting for some outmoded play about the Old South. Nothing is changed except that it all seems so much smaller, so much less labyrinthine, than he has remembered it through the years.

And yet the city does become a labyrinth in which Lee can now hardly find his way, at one point in the narrative falling down, as his feet misremember the terrain. “There is a violent jolt and he finds himself sprawled flat, with his face against the gritty hardness of cement. His knees and the palms of his hands burn from the abrasion. Perplexedly he feels around himself until his hand encounters a drop-off – a curb it is.” The parks and streets of the city come to life in the novel as they engage with the memories of the story’s perplexed and disoriented hero.

Shortly after Destination appeared, Jerry was named Professor Emeritus of English. In his letter recommending the appointment, Department Chair Joseph J. Moldenhauer wrote: “Dr. Langford’s record of creative and scholarly publication has graced both him and his institution.” Professor Moldenhauer goes on to comment on Jerry’s 36 years of service to the English Department: “His service to the Department included his editorship of Corral, an annual of student creative writing, and his labors on the Creative Writing Committee and writing context judging panels.” Jerry was very proud of the Corral, for which he secured endowed funding, because he always wanted to support the first literary steps of student writers. For many years the backbone of the Department’s creative writing program, Jerry also taught American literature and contributed to the Department in a host of other ways, including a term of service as associate chair of the Department. In his emeritus years, Jerry continued to be active, and could regularly be seen coming and going from the Parlin Hall office that he shared with Emeritus Professor Edwin Bowden. The distinction that Jerry Langford’s career lent to the English Department may be indicated by his presence in major directories of scholars and writers: Directory of American Scholars, Who’s Who in the South and Southwest, American Authors Today, Dictionary of International Biography, International Scholars Directory, Men of Achievement, The World Who’s Who of Authors, Writer’s Directory, The Directory of British and American Writers. Jerry was also elected to the Authors League of America and to the Texas Institute of Letters.

Jerry Langford brought to the English Department creativity, dedication, and generosity that enriched the lives of his colleagues and his students. For his legacy of publication, teaching, and service, the English Department will always be grateful.

Books by Gerald Langford

Alias O. Henry. A Biography of William Sidney Porter (1957)
The Richard Harding Davis Years (1961)
The Murder of Sanford White (1962)
Ingenue Among the Lions (1965)
Faulkner’s Revisions of Absalom! Absalom! (1971)
Faulkner’s Revisions of Sanctuary (1972)
Destination (1981)

 



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____________________________
Larry R. Faulkner, President
The University of Texas at Austin


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John R. Durbin, Secretary
The General Faculty


This memorial resolution was prepared by a special committee consisting of Professor James D. Garrison (chair) and Professor Emeritus Edwin T. Bowden