James Sunwall was born in Hayfield Minnesota in 1922 to Victor and Olive Sunwall. After graduating from High School, he attended the college of St. Thomas in St. Paul pursuing a pre-Law course. The following year Pearl Harbour was attacked and he dropped out of school and volunteered for duty. During the war he served as an army medic in the Pacific.
After the war he was discharged and went back to school. His goal had changed. He was determined to be a writer. The University of Minnesota had a promising program with teachers such as Robert Penn Warren and Saul Bellow. So he enrolled at Minnesota U. and took as many writing courses as he could. When he got his B.A. Degree he married his college sweetheart Betty Ann Rouse,(1925-2007) daughter of Howard and Annas Rouse of Waterloo Iowa, and they went to New Orleans, where they lived in the French quarter and he worked at a newspaper, the New Orleans Item.
James continued to write and publish in literary magazines, but James and Betty’s lives changed when it turned out they were going to have a child. As a family they thought it would be better if he were a teacher of Creative Writing and English. He continued to write and was accepted as a student in the famed Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. There he got a Masters in Fine Arts degree. However his mentor Robert Penn Warren was now teaching at Yale, so he moved on to Yale Graduate School.
After getting his Master’s degree from Yale, a job opened up at Colgate University where he was hired to teach journalism and Creative Writing. After three years at Colgate he was offered a position teaching Writing and the Humanities at theUniversity of Florida. He spent the rest of his professional life teaching in Gainesville, returning briefly to Iowa to complete his Ph.D. dissertation.
Though post-Marjory Kinnan Rawlings, the Humanities program at the University of Florida at that time was still in its “Golden Age.” It featured such charismatic lecturers such as Didier Graffe, and musician/artist Bob Carson, and was able to draw such visiting luminaries as poet laurate Robert Frost. James was also on close terms with Janos Shoemyen and Corbin Carnell, a duo with a claim to be the Gainesville version of the famous Oxbridge “inklings” (i.e.,Tolkein, Lewis et al).
In spite of his academic accomplishments, there was nothing of the crabbed professorial manner in James Sunwall, though he continued to teach and write as a Full Professor until retiring as Professor Emeritus in English and Humanities. He delighted in frequent rounds of golf with his close friend, Professor of Music Phil Knesley at the University Golf Course. He was best known in social circles for an acerbic wit offset by his genial personality.
He was also a committed churchman, who served several terms as a vestryman at his Episcopal (later Anglican) parish. Finally, he was a loving and faithful family man who stood by his wife through a series of difficult emotional and physical illnesses. Through example he also inspired his son to take up a career in higher education. Everyone knew him as a man of deep convictions, but who never let his convictions get in the way of kindness.
In retirement he continued to edit and republish his works. In 2016 his historical drama, The Escape of the Unicorn, was performed on stage at the Across Town Repertoire Theatre in Gainesville. Young artists who came into contact with him, the last survivor of the University of Florida’s “Golden Age” in the Humanities, were inspired by the sensitive and intelligent way in which he treated common human themes in his works.
He is survived by his son Mark, his daughter-in-law Kuniko, and two grandsons, Raymond and Carl.
His plays, fiction, and poetry continue to exist in published forms.