The Hampton Roads writing community is mourning the loss of local poet and educator Hollis E. Pruitt who died on April 14.
Pruitt, a native of Mississippi but long-time Hampton Roads resident, served in the U.S. Army and earned a bachelor's degree in radio/TV/film from the University of Arkansas, and a master's degree in creative writing from the University of Tennessee. Later, Pruitt turned his educational goals toward a doctoral degree in American studies, which he recently earned from the College of William and Mary.
Earlier this year, Pruitt gave the keynote address, "A Love Affair With Words," at Christopher Newport University's 2014 writers' conference. But perhaps he is best known locally as professor and creative writing coordinator at Thomas Nelson Community College, where he had served on faculty since 2001, and for his participation in local poetry events, earning the respect and admiration of peers.
"He was a passionate, intelligent, inspiring man. And so warm and inclusive," said Terry Cox-Joseph, who worked with Pruitt on this year's CNU conference. "I've never known anyone like him and will always be thankful for his presence in my life."
Local poet and host/founder of Word4Word Poets (word4wordpoets.org) Ann Falcone Shalaski shared these thoughts: "Dr. Hollis Pruitt was a dear friend and a kind and generous mentor who influenced and shaped my writing. His accomplishments inspired and raised the bar for all writers."
He had "a powerful presence and superb teaching skills," she said. "Both his colleagues at Thomas Nelson Community College, where he served as coordinator of creative writing classes, and his students, held him in the highest regard."
Pruitt worked on behalf of the writing community, worked diligently to broaden the reach of poetry and was a consummate writer, Shalaski said.
"A perfectionist at heart, he was not afraid to revise poems time and again," she said. "Through his personal writing, he addressed universal concerns that impacted all races and cultures. He had an acceptance of what life offered, coupled with a deep sense of fulfillment at the success of fellow writers and students."
Of Pruitt's address at the CNU conference this year, Shalaski said, "Hollis received a standing ovation—a declaration of love and support for a man who inspired so many to embrace and honor the spoken and written word."
Talya Chatman, a local poet and blogger at The Good Word (goodwordpoetryplus.blogspot.com), called him both friend and mentor.
"Dr. Hollis Pruitt was a great mentor, amazing teacher, and above all else, a wonderful friend," Chatman said. "For those who never met him, he (was) the greatest person you'll never meet and those who knew him know what I'm talking about.
"His verses took us to the Mississippi cotton fields, taught us about the cruel history of wars and unveiled the harsh realities of social injustices, but through it all, he always believed in the power of hope and love," Chatman said. "He honored and respected the poets of the past while looking forward to the next generation of talented writers."
Pruitt started one of the Peninsula's first open-mics, she said, and poets continue them at Barnes and Noble. "He was also a co-host of the very popular open-mic at Aroma's where he would bring his creative writing students to learn more about the world of poetry, and I was fortunate enough to be one of those students.
"I am a better writer and person because of Dr. Pruitt, and I can easily say that's true for anyone who knew him and learned from him," Chatman said. "You are sincerely loved and will be deeply missed by all who have ever crossed your path, but I know, as long as there are words, you will forever live on in our hearts."
Pruitt's poems and essays have appeared in "Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature," "The Brass Check" and "The Handbook of the Elves."
Here is a brief excerpt from "Requiem II (for Arthur Myles)" written in 2002:
"I should loathe woodpiles, and hate the chopping of wood.
Grand daddy died with an axe in his hand….There, surrounded
by cotton field and slough.
A well-made and hard-working tool,