Poet James Autry grew up in rural Benton County, between Hickory Flat and Ashland, the son and grandson of Baptist ministers. His mother painted. After graduating from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1955, Autry served four years as a fighter pilot with the US Air Force in France. He then began a successful career in the magazine industry, ultimately becoming editor in chief and president of the Meredith Corporation’s Magazine Group, which published Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Successful Farming.
Autry has authored thirteen books, among them two books of poetry published by Yoknapatawpha Press, Nights under a Tin Roof (1983) and Life after Mississippi (1989). His poems have generally been characterized as both elegiac and vernacular encounters with rural life and the encroaching values of a culture caught in the modernity of urbanism, mechanism, and distance from traditional rituals. Many of his subsequent nonfiction works focus on the search for meaning and ethics in the world of commerce and business while drawing strength from the poetic form. For example, Real Power (1998, with poet and translator Stephen Mitchell) draws inspiration from the morals set by the ancient philosophy of the Tao Te Ching in the pursuit of the power in the business community. Other books include Love and Profit (1992) as well as Life and Work (1994); Confessions of an Accidental Businessman, a memoir (1996); Spirit of Retirement (2002); The Servant Leader (2004); The Book of Hard Choices (2006, with Peter Roy); Looking around for God (2007); Choosing Gratitude: Learning to Love the Life You Have (2012); Choosing Gratitude 365 Days a Year: Your Daily Guide to Grateful Living (2012, with Sally J. Pederson); On Paying Attention: New and Selected Poems (2015). Autry’s poetry was the topic of a 1991 special issue of the Kentucky Poetry Review, and he was a featured poet in Bill Moyers’s PBS special series The Power of the Word (1994). He again appeared with Moyers on PBS in 2012, discussing his home state and reading the poem “Leaving Mississippi.” In addition to being named a distinguished alumnus of the University of Mississippi, Autry has received an honorary doctorate of literature from William Jewel College and the Missouri Medal of Honor for distinguished service in journalism from the University of Missouri at Columbia.
Married to Sally Joanne Pederson, a writer, editor, and former lieutenant governor of Iowa, Autry is the father of three sons and currently resides in Des Moines, Iowa.
- James A. Autry website, www.jamesaautry.com
- Bill Moyers and James Haba, eds., The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets (1995)