Terry Randolph Hummer was born in Macon, Mississippi, on 7 August 1950 and raised on a farm in Noxubee County. His father, C. V. Hummer of Prairie Point, traced his Mississippi ancestry to the late nineteenth century, when his family emigrated from Bavaria. Hummer’s mother, Marion Kate Slocum Hummer, was a “Mississippian displaced from Louisiana.” His parents met in the 1930s, and Hummer was born at what he calls the “statistical crossroad” of the Hummer family’s rise into the middle class and the Slocum family’s “gradual, but considerable, decline.” After C. V. Hummer’s death, the family moved to Macon, where the boy attended school. During the summer of 1965 Hummer worked on his uncle’s farm, saving “a third of a tenth” of his earnings toward the purchase of an electric guitar.
Despite his farming background, Hummer remembers his Mississippi childhood not idyllically but as part of an increasingly homogenous, facade-focused America divided by land, class, and especially race. Hummer’s poem, “Mississippi 1955 Confessional,” in The 18,000-Ton Olympic Dream: Poems (1990) confronts the racist ideology of his own upbringing: “A white boy brought up believing the wind isn’t even human, the wind is happy / To live in its one wooden room with only newspaper on the walls.”
Hummer acknowledges the artistic influences of James Dickey and jazz music as well as a continued deep emotional attachment to Prairie Point and its environs, but he prefers to see himself as a poet “who happens to be from the South” rather than as a southern poet.
Hummer attended the University of Southern Mississippi, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1972 and a master’s degree two years later. In 1980 Hummer completed a doctorate at the University of Utah, where he studied with poet Dave Smith. Hummer taught at various colleges and universities outside the South until 1997, when he became senior poet in the creative writing program at Virginia Commonwealth University. In what can be seen as a symbolic return to the South, Hummer joined the blues band Little Ronnie and the Grand Dukes, reinventing the lyric sounds that he remembered from the 1960s.
Hummer published his first chapbook, Translation of Light, in 1976, and has now published ten collections of poems. Hummer received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1987, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993, and two Pushcart Prizes (1990 and 1992). Walt Whitman in Hell (1996) won the 1999 Hanes Prize for Poetry from Fellowship of Southern Writers. Seven of his books have been included in Louisiana State University’s Southern Messenger Poets series, including Ephemeron (2011), which won the 2012 Mississippi Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, Skandalon (2014), and Eon (2018).
In 2006, after spending several years as a professor at the University of Georgia and editor of the Georgia Review, Hummer joined the creative writing program at Arizona State University, where he continues to teach and write poems.
- Phil Paradis, Cimarron Review (April 1985)
- T. R. Hummer, e-mail interview with Sean Harrington Wells
- T. R. Hummer, James Dickey Newsletter (Fall 1986)
- T. R. Hummer, Southern Review (Winter 1995)
- Louisiana State University Press website, www.lsupress.org
- Ernest Suarez, in Southbound: Interviews with Southern Poets, ed. Amy Vermer (1999)