Heart of the Delta

Discovering the back pages of John Pritchard's world.

(page 6 of 6)


A “Writer” — Not an “Author”

John Pritchard was born at Baptist Hospital in January 1938, but spent most of his childhood in Tunica, Mississippi.

“Delta people lived fast, they loved parties, they loved whiskey and they loved dancing,” he says. “And they did a lot of it. And those planters paid their bills once a year up in Memphis, at the end of December.”

He graduated from Sewanee Military Academy in 1956 before attending the University of Mississippi, where he would graduate in 1960. He spent that summer as a copy-boy for The New York Times, whose editor had rented a room from Pritchard’s parents while working for the Tunica Times in the 1920s. An adventurous youth, he drove, hitchhiked, sailed, or flew to Florida, Mexico, Cuba, and Venezuela, before entering the army at his father’s behest.

“God, it was horrible . . . but I hung on,” he says. “I graduated last in my class as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army — last in my class. Then I was supposed to go to Ranger school. I was there for two days before I knew that was not for me.”

Pritchard returned to The New York Times in 1963, after two years in the Army, and after New York, would come south to earn his master’s degree from Memphis State University in 1968.

He spent much of the late 1960s in middle Tennessee, teaching at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville. In 1970, he moved to Nashville, working as a part-time professor, and serving as a deputy with the Metro Nashville and Davidson County Sheriff’s Department. It was here that he earned his two gold records, co-writing The Captain and Tenille’s “Can’t Stop Dancing,” with Ray Stevens, which won a BMI award in 1977 for “outstanding achievement.”

He returned to Memphis in 1981 where he would work in advertising and return to teaching. Over the next 32 years he has taught at the University of Memphis, Memphis College of Art, and then-Shelby State Community College — a place that he remembers with particular fondness.

“I hate the word author,” Pritchard says. “You know, people say, ‘He’s an author.’ I’m not an author: I’m a writer. Back when I was teaching, they’d say, ‘He’s an educator,’ and I’d say, ‘I’m not an educator, I’m a teacher.’

New South Books, which published Junior Ray and Yazoo Blues, will release the next Junior Ray novel, Sailing to Alluvium, in the fall of 2013. — Michael Flanagan


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