In Memoriam – J. D. Mark, T Model Ford, Karl Pohrt, Will D. Campbell

We like to think that aging is a phenomenon that makes Square Books “distinguished,” maybe even “venerable,” but it also means that, increasingly, we lose old friends. Recently, two musicians, both of whom appeared on Thacker Mountain on several occasions, passed away.  J. D., or Jim, Mark, was only 43. He was a native of Flint, Michigan, but found a home here where the music was rich and he had something to give to it, playing guitar with a number of bands, most familiarly with Wiley and the Checkmates. We’ll miss his broad smile and friendly countenance, as we will the same of T Model Ford. T Model was a native of Forest, in Scott County, Mississippi. He claimed to be uncertain of his age and reportedly had six wives and 26 children.   He began playing music late but developed a unique style that was discovered by the Fat Possum label. He often played around these parts, with songs such as “Pee-Wee Get My Gun,” “Jack Daniel,” and “She Ain’t None of Your’n,” that just as easily might have been the titles of Larry Brown stories.

       Karl Pohrt died recently at 65, too young for the bright spirit that always burned in Karl, who owned Shaman Drum, a great independent in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that managed to find its identity in the midst of the town where Borders Books was based mainly by selling textbooks for profit, with very large sidelines of poetry, small press books, literary nonfiction, Buddhism, and other typically unprofitable marginalia for which Karl had immense enthusiasm. He came to Oxford a couple of times for the Book Conference, and I was able to visit his store when he and friends invited me to a confab there. Karl was a fierce champion for writers, books, and independent bookstores, a gentle soul with a twinkle in his eye that signaled his ready humor and open friendship.

     And we lost the great Will Campbell, born in Amite County, Mississippi in 1924, who became an important figure in civil rights. He was raised Southern Baptist, became a minister, and found himself unable to reconcile Christianity with the racism that permeated Southern culture of the 1950s and 60s, including in its churches, so he left the church, but not Christ, and grew to embrace desegregation and tolerance at a time when few other whites did. This experience no doubt informed the sensibilities that made him such a good writer. His unforgettable Brother to a Dragonfly was published in 1977, the year I began working in a bookstore in Washington, D. C., and the book became a kind of personal literary totem, as it was for so many other Mississippians and others, as well. We invited Will to Square Books when his first novel, The Glad River, was published, and on April 23, 1982, had our first multiple-author event – for Will; for Joan Williams, whose County Woman had just come out; for Barry Hannah, as he was relatively new to Oxford and it was his birthday; and for Willie Morris, because Willie was always game for any kind of a party.  That was 32 years ago; now, they’re all gone but their words remain. RH

*pictured top to bottom: J. D. Mark, T. Model Ford,
Karl Pohrt (3rd from left) with other great booksellers -- Rick Simonson of Elliott Bay, Paul Yamazaki of City Lights, and Sarah McNally of McNally Jackson Books, and Will Campbell