Little-known hobo writer topic of next MSU Faculty Forum

The life of southern writer Williams Nabors is the topic of the next Faculty Forum presentation. Assistant Professor of History Whitney A. Snow will present "Alabama Bill: The Life of a Genteel Hobo, 1900-1958" at 7 p.m., Monday, April 10, in Clark Student Center Wichita I and II.

Nabors' life and work provides an untapped glimpse not only of Depression-Era America, especially New York City, but also of an array of historical figures ranging from Zane Grey to Harry Houdini. Snow collected 52 of his poems and 155 of his letters, all written to the Guntersville Advertiser and Democrat, his hometown newspaper. She compiled them into an edited collection that she hopes to publish through a university press.

Born in Marshall County, Alabama, in 1900, Nabors was a precocious child and published his first poem at age 14. His parents, Richard and Lusinda, farmed and owned a gristmill. After the mill burned, the family, which had grown by six more children, fell on hard times. Nabors resorted to moonshining to help with the family finances but was arrested in 1919. He jumped bail and fled to the oilfields of Texas. He tramped throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico before becoming a shipman and crossing the Atlantic Ocean four times.

A brief stint at the Los Angeles Illustrated Daily Times allowed him to sharpen obvious journalistic skills. He started with sports columns but then covered the Arizona beat and became well acquainted with Arizona Governor George W.P. Hunt. Nabors eventually moved to New York City where he opened a bookstore with literary critic Ralph Adimari. Seemingly cured of wanderlust, Nabors befriended characters such as novelist Maxwell Bodenheim, King of the Hobos Dan O'Brien, poet Vachel Lindsay, painter Clifford Addams, and the widow of Russian playwright Leonid Andreyev, Anna Denisevich. Snow said that while his vivid descriptions of these interactions are captivating, Nabors' writing also shows his mental decline.

By the early 1940s, his letters had veered to spiritualism, psychic phenomena, and ghosts. In one letter, Nabors mentioned hearing voices and shortly thereafter, he ceased writing altogether. He became indigent and a known figure in the Bowery. In 1958, Nabors' sister Gladys, still living in Marshall County and thinking him schizophrenic, filed a request to have him committed to Alabama's state mental asylum. A week later, rather than be committed, he laid down on 4th Avenue and allowed a taxi to run over him. His death made headlines nationwide, referring to him as the "Bowery Scholar," the "Courtly Panhandler," or his hobo handle - "Alabama Bill."

Faculty Forum is a showcase for the research and creative endeavors of the MSU faculty. It is an opportunity for the campus and Wichita Falls communities to learn, engage, and sometimes discuss the novel ideas and explorations of the talented individuals who teach, discover, and create at MSU.