Nicholls executive to return to writing

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THIBODAUX, La. (AP) — After 34 years at Nicholls State University, Al Davis will "technically retire" this spring to write fiction — his first love but which he says was like "a big sumo wrestler" that beat him down.

Sitting behind his desk, wearing his trademark bowtie, this one orange with silver diagonal stripes, Davis reflected on a career built upon his ability to write.

He's currently vice president for interim academic affairs. He's been dean of the University College, Alcee Fortier distinguished professor, distinguished service professor of languages and literature, and novelist in residence.

Davis was born and raised in Houma and graduated from Terrebonne High School.

Recognizing his talent early on, teachers encouraged Davis to write. Taking their advice to heart he wrote as often as he could, including poems for girls he had a crush on. Those he stuck to the girls' lockers.

Writing, he said, was always what he wanted to do.

"I was reading 'As I Lay Dying' one night, and when Addie Bundren started talking I said 'Oh my, I've got to do this,'" he said.

Davis attended the University of Louisiana-Lafayette graduated from Nicholls in 1969 with degrees in history and English.

After briefly teaching in Terrebonne Parish, Davis earned a master's degree in creative writing from Colorado State University, then returned to Houma, covering the court system for the Houma Courier.

"We carried cameras around. We had to have a story, we all had a byline, had to have one every day," he said. "I had fun at the newspaper."

He soon returned to Nicholls as a professor. He taught English for several years until he completed his first two novels, "Leechtime" in 1989 and "Marquis at Bay" in 1992. He began teaching creative writing and was named novelist in residence in 1993.

Davis cites William Faulkner, Joseph Conrad and Ernest Hemingway as his inspiration.

"Faulkner is my hero," he said.

The novels, Davis said, were a personal struggle.

"Writers look for any excuse not to write. I can write a poem every day, but a novel, no. That's a big sumo wrestler that beat ... me and won," he said.

Shortly thereafter he was commissioned to write a different kind of book: the university policy manual.

"I got familiar with administration, policy, promotion and tenure guidelines. That's where working in administration became really attractive to me," he said.

Not long after he completed the faculty handbook, Davis was named director of general studies.

He worked his way up to dean of the relatively young University College. During the past decade, he guided the John Folse Culinary Institute through the addition of several four-year degrees and a new building, and the Petroleum Engineering Safety and Technology Management program as it expanded to meet workforce needs.

The opening of the new culinary building, Davis said, will mark the official countdown to his retirement.

Since becoming interim vice president, Davis has pulled double duty.

"This has been an interesting little place. I've got a bigger perspective of what's been going on. I'm a little closer to faculty, outside of my limited view. It's very busy, he said.

He said Nicholls President Bruce Murphy, who started his job in January, has hired the right people and "is a smart man with a plan."

And, he said, for years he's been feeling an increasing call to finish that third novel. He had set spring 2015 as a potential exit date even before Murphy was named, he said.

He'll still be around campus. As an Alcee Fourtier distinguished professor, Davis gets an office to continue his work on publications advancing the Nicholls' name.

"When you get to 30 years you start to think about it," he said. "Your body starts telling you 'you're not going to live forever.' Maybe you do want to get back in the ring with the sumo wrestler just to try it out. Maybe you do need to do that puzzle your granddaughter likes to do, maybe you do want to watch your granddaughter get off the bus and run at you and say, 'Papa!'"


Information from: Daily Comet,

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