By Rebecca Renshaw
What can someone do with a degree in English literature? Plenty, and SIU alumnus Jim Hood is the perfect example.
Hood’s degree propelled him into a successful career in the news and information industry.
“When you study and research literature, you learn how to condense a whole lot of information down to the essence,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s impossible to go wrong studying English literature. If you get a real base studying and researching literature, you can go out and do anything.”
Hood ’69 and his wife recently established the James R. and Joan Lisante Hood Fund for New Media Technology with a $30,000 gift. In 2020, the James R. and Joan Lisante Hood Endowed Scholarship for Creative Nonfiction will be created with an additional $40,000 contribution.
SIU offers inspiration, experience
John Gardner was Hood’s favorite professor. Gardner had built a reputation as a rebel in the field of medieval studies, specifically in the study of Geoffrey Chaucer.
“I remember Gardner reading ‘Canterbury Tales’ to my class. He would read it line by line and explain it in middle English,” Hood said. “It was as much anthropology as English literature. Gardner transformed it from a study of old bones into a study of beautiful poetry and fiction.”
While a student at SIU, Hood gravitated toward local news and spent most of his time as a radio reporter and freelance correspondent covering the social upheavals of the 1960s. He served as the news director of WSIU radio, covering civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activities. Hood also worked at WINI in Murphysboro and WJPF in Herrin.
“I remember finishing up the 2 p.m. news at WJPF when the phone rang,” he said. “A guy asked if I was the one who just delivered the news, and when I said that I had, he offered me a job at a radio station in Phoenix. After graduation, I packed my bags and went to Phoenix.”
Hood also regularly sat in on classes taught by Buckminster Fuller. He credits Fuller, in part, for his entrepreneurial spirit.
“I never forgot what I learned at SIU,” he said. “Fuller taught me about design, how to look at problems, and then how to think outside the box to solve those problems.”
Bridging the gap
Hood worked for 14 years as an editor and executive for Associated Press outlets across the country. His knack for solving problems coupled with his technical skills pushed him to start several startup companies, such as Zap News and Consumer Affairs.
“I’m the guy you can blame for consumers who won’t buy anything until they read the reviews,” Hood said.
Hood, now semi-retired, lives in Fairfax, Virginia, and runs Fairfax News.
“Basically, it’s my personal hobby. We cover Washington, D.C., and do stories on cops and robbers – that kind of thing.”
By giving to SIU’s creative writing program, he hopes to help bridge the gap between creative writing and technology.
“Sometimes people with a technical bent don’t know how to express themselves, and literary types are hopeless when it comes to technical stuff,” Hood said. “It’s my hope that by implementing new media projects using technology, it will help one or two starving English majors.”
Hood credits SIU with introducing him to some of the brightest people he ever met.
“I’ve always felt obligated to give back to SIU. It helps diverse students and attracts students from other countries. It also helps to lift up students from inner cities like East St. Louis and Chicago,” he said. “I think big universities like SIU need the benefits of philanthropy much more than private institutions.”