I was born in 1966 in Hampton County, a rural county in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 60 miles north of Savannah, Georgia, 45 miles northwest of Beaufort, and 75 miles west of Charleston. It is a quiet place of mostly flat farm- and timberland, meandering creeks, and cypress swamps teaming with crappie and "red-breast," a type of bream. The county is shaped somewhat like a hammer, its head pointing southeast toward Beaufort, and is divided into two roughly equal halves by the Coosawhatchie River. Its northeastern boundary is the Salkehatchie River, while its southwestern boundary is the Savannah River. I lived there with my parents, John and Eliza Padgett, until I graduated from Wade Hampton High School in 1984, at the age of eighteen.
After high school, I enrolled at Clemson University, in the extreme northwestern corner of South Carolina, with a major in computer engineering. During my first semester I switched my major to engineering analysis, with the intent of going to the Medical University of South Carolina after graduation and eventually becoming a biomedical engineer. Even so, I still intended to pursue my lifelong goal and avocation, to become a writer. In part to remain true to that calling, I joined The Tiger, the weekly college newspaper, as a staff writer.
As a sophomore at Clemson, I was elected copy editor of The Tiger, and as I spent more and more late nights reading copy, I found it increasingly difficult to stay awake through — or to attend, for that matter — an 8 a.m. physics class. At the same time, I found more and more to like about the literature classes I was taking. After a dismal semester gradewise — two C's, in Bioengineering 101 and organic chemistry — I took the plunge and switched my major to English, with a minor in creative writing.
I left The Tiger after my sophomore year, and became more active in the Honors Program, called "Calhoun College," after Thomas Green Clemson's father-in-law, famous statesman and South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, whose mansion, Fort Hill, still stands on the Clemson campus. As part of my honors curricula, I wrote a creative thesis my senior year, a collection of short stories titled "City Lights and Other Stories." They were not very good, and I wouldn't dream of showing them to anyone today, but they were good enough for me to graduate Magna Cum Laude with Senior Departmental Honors from Clemson in 1988.
That fall, I received a teaching assistantship and enrolled in the English Department's master's degree program at Clemson. As a teaching assistant, I taught composition to freshmen. During the fall of 1990, I served as a visiting instructor of English, a faculty-level position, teaching sophomore literature as well as freshman composition. I resigned at the end of the semester, intending to enroll in the spring of 1991 at Louisiana State University, which had offered me a stipend as a bibliographical researcher, but I turned down the offer because I had not yet finished my master's thesis.
Instead, I took a job in Clemson as reporter, and later editor, of The Messenger, a twice- weekly community newspaper, a job I held until the summer of 1992. In the fall of 1991, I finished my master's thesis, Shelley, Dante, and Romantic Irony, a study of the medieval Italian poet's influence on British Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and received my M.A. degree in English in December.
After finishing my master's degree, and growing tired of being an overworked, underpaid small-town journalist, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in English. In 1992 I accepted a teaching assistantship at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where again I would teach freshman composition. In 1993, my duties expanded to include teaching introductory and British literature at the sophomore level.
On October 8, 1994, I married Esther Martin, a fellow master's student at Clemson, and today we still live near Oxford as I continue to finish my doctorate in English. Our "family" presently includes three cats — Truffles, the eldest; Pemberton, a bob-tailed tortoiseshell we found half-starved in a hotel parking lot in Vicksburg, Mississippi; and Graymalkin, a "blue-eyed devil" we got from the animal shelter in January 1999 — and two dogs — Miss Chow-Chow and Faulkner, a part-Siberian husky who was about eight weeks old when we got him in July 1995.
Updated September 26, 1999
Copyright © 1999 by John B. Padgett
Last Modified October 10, 2000