Drake, Retired UT Writer and Teacher, Dies

KNOXVILLE — Robert Drake, the University of Tennessee English professor and writer whose short stories about growing up in West Tennessee are familiar to a generation of Southern readers, died June 30 at a hospital in Martin, Tenn.

Drake, 70, who had been ill since shortly before his retirement in 1999, died of apparent heart failure. He taught Southern literature and creative writing at UT from 1965 until he retired.

“The most distinctive feature of Bob’s compositions is the voice that talks to you as you read,” said Dr. Allen Carroll, head of UT’s English Department. “This voice comes from a particular place and time — very small-town West Tennessee.

“Bob spent a lifetime perfecting this voice, remembering it, and letting the world hear it.”

Drake is known for his short story, “Amazing Grace,” which appeared in a 1961 issue of “Christian Century” and gave the title to his first collection of short stories.

The story was reprinted in four successive editions of “Interpreting Literature” by K.L. Knickerbocker and H.W. Renniger. Altogether he published half a dozen books of short stories and memoirs and more than 200 stories and articles.

In recent years he was honored with new editions and collections of his writings and a retrospective devoted to his work at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association. In 1997, he donated his manuscripts and correspondence to Vanderbilt.

A native of Ripley, Tenn., Drake held B.A. and M. A. degrees from Vanderbilt University and the M.A. and the Ph.D. from Yale. He taught English at the University of Michigan, Northwestern and the University of Texas before joining the UT faculty.

A memorial service will be held in Knoxville on July 25 at 6 p.m. in the chapel of St. John’s Cathedral on Cumberland Avenue at Walnut Street.