James Hurst

James Robert Hurst was born in 1922 on a farm by the sea near Jacksonville, North Carolina, the youngest of three children of Andrew and Kate Hurst. He attended North Carolina State College and served in the United States Army for three years during World War II. Though he had studied to become a chemical engineer, he realized that he preferred music and became a student at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. Aiming for a career as an opera singer, he traveled to Rome, Italy, for further study, living there for four years. On his return to the United States, he soon decided that he lacked operatic talent and abandoned his musical ambitions. In 1951 he began a career in the international department of Chase Manhattan Bank, New York, where he continued to work until he retired in 1984.

Literary Breakthrough
During his early years at the bank, Hurst wrote and published short stories and a play, mostly in small literary magazines. “The Scarlet Ibis” was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in July 1960 and won the “Atlantic First” award that year. Quickly recognized as a classic, the story has appeared in virtually every high-school literature textbook series published since the late 1960s.

His Own View Today
Hurst lives not far from the place in North Carolina where he was born. In his garden grows many of the flowers mentioned in “The Scarlet Ibis.” Hurst says that there are three “characters” in the story—Doodle, the narrator, and the setting, which comments on the inner action. When asked about the meaning of the story, Hurst once replied, “I hesitate to respond, since authors seldom understand what they write. That is why we have critics. I venture to say, however, that it comments on the tenacity and the splendor of the human spirit.”