“Do you have a branch campus in Florida?”

From a footnote of his magnificent book Where the North Sea Touches Alabama, Allen C. Shelton recounts a job application letter for an unnamed university teaching position he scrawled by hand while shivering through a “blizzard of the century.” He presumably did not send this draft. In any event, he points out, “I didn’t get the job.” I thought a good many here might appreciate reading.

I’m writing this bundled up in as many layers as I can wear and still more. I’m wrapped up in the wool blanket, wearing the only gloves I own—a pair of brown gardening gloves with a finger missing. My dog chewed the finger off. It’s probably twenty-five degrees inside. Outside, the greatest storm of the century is knocking my house for a loop. The weatherman of the battery-operated radio makes me feel almost privileged to be here, shivering in the dark, without power. “This is the storm of the century,” he hums, like the wind shredding the win on my barn roof. The worst of it is I’m bored to death. There’s only so much sleep and staring into space that I can take before I crave watching TV. I feel like a stroke victim—cold and numb. The wind is gusting up to fifty miles an hour. I can feel it. I live in a house built in 1834. It has its own respiratory system. I can see the curtains wheezing. My dogs have taken over the kitchen. My wife and son have taken over the big bed. That leaves me with either a wick-backed sofa or where I’m stuck now, at my desk. This was desperation. Reading was impossible. I couldn’t turn the pages with my gloves on. I read too fast to take the gloves on and off and those slow, meditative books I’ve been putting off reading—I’m putting off reading. I think they make me colder. So why did I listen to my wife and unhook the woodstove? It made sense at the time. I could move in some more books. We hadn’t used it in years. Now it’s the storm of the century and I’m freezing. So I’m writing. My toes are cold. I look like a character in A Christmas Carol. Amazingly, the ink isn’t freezing in my fountain pen. It must be cold in the North Carolina mountains. Do you have a branch campus in Florida? Unless it’s the Keys, it might be cold there though. I just remembered the weatherman with his right arm sending arrows streaking through Florida before the cable went out. My house is set off in the country. The nearest house is a half mile away and I’m related to them. The nearest hamburger is seven miles over the mountain. The nearest house right now with running water and power is twenty-six miles down the road, but that changes by the hour. The closest may be in Florida by now. (212-213)

7 thoughts on ““Do you have a branch campus in Florida?”

  1. Incidentally, Allen. I absolutely adore this book of yours, and have literally been pushing it into people’s hands begging them to read. (Disclosure: I’m a bookseller.) If anybody’s reading this comment, seriously, find it.

  2. Brad, I made the long shortlist with this letter. There was a phone interview. There was a slender hope of a campus visit. The college is adjacent to where the Black Mountain School was. I still have the original letter. It was a fever dream couldn’t quite cure my life. I’m not sure you can imagine how gratifying it is to hear that you adore the book and its ancestor, the letter. There’s silence around it in my world. Thank you.

  3. I wholeheartedly second the recommendation for Allen’s book…on my list for top 5 non-academic academic books of the year. And his previous book is pretty marvelous also….both are maybe what i would call haunted productions (in both the continental sense as well as the demotic).

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