Children’s Author Jack Darnell

Written By Marvin Harper | Photography By F.A. Dockery

Seventy-seven-year-old Jack Darnell was born to be a lover of books. He reads them, writes them, collects them and expresses a passion for them that only he can possibly explain.

There is even an element of “superstition” behind it, as Darnell explains.  “My father put a book in my hand the day I was born. He thought that whatever he put in my hand, I would be interested in for the rest of my life,” says Darnell.

“Superstition” or not, his father’s wish came true. Darnell has published two children’s books and is currently working on his third book, a collection of true stories about his native Coker Creek. He also writes poetry and maintains a collection of over 1000 books from which he draws his estimated four hours of reading almost every day.

Darnell’s life in the small southern Monroe County community of Coker Creek is somewhat of a story-book tale in itself. By choice, he lives without electricity or running water in the same 100-year-old rustic wooden house where he was born.

The desire to be a writer hit home with Darnell when he was 10-years-old. He decided then to start his own newspaper.  He gathered news, mostly about his own family, hand-wrote it on paper and passed the single copy “newspaper” around to family members. It was the beginning of a life-time of writing.

The newspaper idea has long since given way to stories and poems which often come to Darnell in the middle of the night. With the help of an old manual typewriter and the light of a kerosene lamp, he puts his thoughts on paper.

For a man whose main philosophy in life is “to be happy”, Darnell finds that doing without some of the luxuries of modern life is easy. “Electricity would just be an extra expense I don’t need,” he says and the once or twice daily trips down to the spring for a couple of buckets of water is no big deal for him either. “I never was lazy,” Darnell says with a smile.  He lives alone in the house where he heats and cooks with wood. “I’ve never been married but I’ve had a lot of near misses,” he says.

Darnell completed two years of high school in nearby Tellico Plains before serving a two-year stint in the Army. He farmed in Coker Creek for a while and then went to work in the shipping department of a nearby sewing factory. But the lure of books and writing remained with Darnell and he began writing stories for the children of the factory workers. His works gained in popularity and children and parents wanted more.  Darnell retired six years ago from the factory but kept up his writing.

His children’s books are made up of a series of short stories. “I like to have a different moral message in each one,” he says, but he is careful not to try to “change” the children he writes for.  Of the books he has published, he says, “I feel sure they have helped some children.”

Darnell is a familiar figure at seasonal festivals where he offers his books for sale along with an autograph. He does no advertising and his sales come largely from “word of mouth.”  The orders continue to come in year after year, requests from parents and grand-parents anxious to get a copy of what is dearest to the heart of Jack Darnell…  a book.

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