Jim Black’s Journey to Becoming a University Professor
Library users can easily identify the distinct moment in which they developed a love for reading. For some, it was a book about talking to the moon, for others it was about a rabbit that wore human clothes. Dr. A James Black, Professor Emeritus for the Department of English at the University of Calgary – known to all his friends as Jim – fondly remembered the “funny books” his father would bring him as a young reader. Jim could look at the pictures and make out the “balloons” that came out of the characters’ mouths. In this way, he was able to teach himself to read before he’d even entered school. Jim was schooled in Ballymena, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. His mother was employed in the local linen mill and his father was in the Army. In those early years of World War II, there were few good school teachers to be found. The reading lessons in school contained only excerpts from well known stories and books. They stirred Jim’s desire to find out more about the story, so he went to the local library where the librarian recognized his great desire to read. Her guidance was thoughtful and helpful. And so, his love of books grew.
Jim carried this passion to Canada, upon reading in the newspaper that free passage and jobs were being offered to young immigrants willing to move to the country. He lived in Montreal and later on found himself in Calgary with a job at Calgary Power. Jim was stellar soccer player back home so, it did not take him long to find another soccer club; he was chosen to be on the all-start Alberta team. He made many friends at work, many of whom enjoyed talking about books on their breaks. One friend in particular, eventually became his wife, Helen. She, along with many of Jim’s friends saw his passion for lifelong learning and encouraged him to go to university. With only the equivalent of a Grade 9 education, Jim learned he would have to make up his schooling with correspondent courses. He attacked this task with relish. Each day, during lunch break, he ran 13 blocks from his work to the library to study and choose books to take away for nighttime learning. Jim credits the library staff at Memorial Park Library for their support and encouraging him to succeed. Soon, he had the courses required and began his first year at the University of Alberta. He had to quit his full time job so, to make a little extra money to add to his savings, he got a job with the Calgary Public Library, working once a week in the “Bookmobile”. He loved his job; helping children pick out books, which would spark their curiosity for the world in the same way his local librarian did for him. Helen and Jim became long time donors to the Library, motivated by their shared love of literature and inspired by the librarians Jim encountered throughout his life that encouraged him on his journey of lifelong learning.
Jim graduated from the University of Alberta with an Honours Bachelor’s Degree and Masters of Arts in English, with a focus on “Elizabethan and pro-Elizabethan Drama”. Helen and Jim later moved to England where Jim continued his studies in Shakespeare. After completing his thesis, Jim once again found himself in Calgary as a lecturer at the University of Calgary, inspiring a love of Shakespeare in thousands of students. He was nominated by a number of students from his classes for the Teaching Excellence Award and won in 1994 – 1995. This award, he treasured above all others. Jim loved all literature and enjoyed helping students to also enjoy it. It was quite common for him to appear in any number of classes, on the snowiest days, when other professors were unable to make it in to lecture.
Jim eventually retired from the university, but continued to share his passion for Shakespeare and lifelong learning. Soccer was always present. He loved to kick the ball around with his sons and to read with them, making up bedtime stories for them. Jim continued this tradition with his grandchildren until his passing in 2016.
In honour of her husband’s passion for lifelong learning and literature, Helen made a donation in 2018 for a Generational Window inscription at the new Central Library. She selected a Thornton Wilder quote which reads, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” Helen looks forward to many visits at the new Central Library to not only see the window, but to explore the spaces which bring the building alive.
If you would like to purchase a window inscription for your loved one, visit www.mylibrarywindow.ca. There are only a few windows left so be sure to submit your inscription today!