Poet, UMass prof Donald Junkins dies at 89


Staff Writer
Published: 4/21/2021 4:57:49 PM

Donald Junkins — a poet, professor and longtime Franklin County resident — died last Thursday from complications of heart disease. He was 89 years old.

Though he and his wife Kamei Zheng had moved to California in 2019, Junkins spent most of his life in Massachusetts, and lived in Franklin County for his entire three-decade tenure at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, plus about 10 years after his retirement, according to his son Daniel Junkins.

At UMass, Junkins taught creative writing, and was recognized as an expert on Ernest Hemingway. He argued against critiques claiming that Hemingway’s work is misogynistic.

In 1990, while studying Hemingway’s notebooks, Junkins discovered a previously unknown and unpublished story called “Philip Haines Was a Writer.” According to UMass, Junkins considered this to be the last story Hemingway ever wrote, and it was published that year in The Hemingway Review. However, other scholars considered the story to be a minor discovery. Hemingway’s son, Patrick Hemingway, said it was an unfinished work (which Junkins disagreed with) and called Junkins a “menace.”

“He lived life to the fullest. He really had a commitment to live honestly, not to shy away from emotions, and to be really straight and authentic,” Daniel Junkins said of his father. “Poetry allowed him to see the sacred quality of life.”

Junkins was born Dec. 19, 1931, and grew up in Saugus. At Saugus High School he played football, and was voted most likely to succeed when he graduated in 1948.

He went to UMass, but his college career was unremarkable. He was bored with school and preferred sports, Daniel said, yet still graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 1953.

His interest in poetry developed unexpectedly. He enrolled in a graduate program at Boston University’s School of Theology. This decision was probably less than inspired, Daniel said; Junkins’ brother had studied in a seminary, and Junkins probably was simply following suit.

The program included courses on literature, and Junkins found himself in a class taught by the poet Robert Lowell. That class completely changed his perspective, Daniel said, and he transferred out of the theology program to the school’s literature program.

“He was kind of blown away,” Daniel said. “He dropped into the literary elite in the poetry world, without even knowing what he was dropping into.”

For the rest of his life, Junkins called himself an atheist. Yet, he was always a churchgoer, Daniel said.

“I think it was his skepticism and his doubt that drove him to say atheist. My feeling is that writing poetry became a spiritual exercise for him,” Daniel said.

Junkins taught briefly at Emerson College, then moved to California with his first wife, Mardie Luppold, to teach at California University at Chico. The family returned to Massachusetts in 1966, now with three children, and Junkins began teaching at UMass, where he would stay until his retirement. They lived in Sunderland for about 10 years, then Deerfield, Daniel said.

Even while teaching, Junkins continued to write poetry, and occasionally performed readings locally. He read his work at the grand opening of The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley in 1991, and also read at Deerfield Academy and Greenfield Community College. The Junkins family particularly enjoyed World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield, Daniel said.

Junkins and Mardie Luppold divorced in 1980, and he married his second wife, Kaimei Zheng in 1993. Daniel said they moved to California in 2019 for an easier climate.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.


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