Jim Tully, Literary Hobo, Rediscovered by Kent State Press
Ohio man's rich past as a boxer, reporter and author remembered in new book; university press rereleasing Tully's earlier works
For Paul Bauer, it started with a simple enough request.
One day, in 1992, a man walked into Bauer’s bookshop in downtown Kent asking for a copy of an obscure book by a forgotten Ohioan.
Unable to provide the man with either the book or any knowledge of its author, whom he had never come across in all his years as a literary omnivore, Bauer consulted a book containing the names and works of regional writers.
There it was – Jim Tully.
Listed beside Tully’s name were his works, which detailed his vagabond lifestyle in the underbelly of America.
Unaware of the effect these stories would have on their lives, Bauer mentioned Tully to his friend, Mark Dawidziak.
With a vague inclination of the biography they might one day author, the two agreed to find out as much as they could about Tully.
Who Is Jim Tully?
Jim Tully was born into an impoverished Irish Catholic family near St. Marys, OH, in 1886.
After the death of his mother in 1892, and his subsequent life in an orphanage in Cincinnati, Tully found refuge in the road life and began hopping trains, eventually ending up in Kent for about four years.
During his lifetime he boxed, reported on Hollywood and wrote popular and critically acclaimed books, often memoirs about his life.
A young “road kid” looking to settle down for a while, Tully came to live in Kent in the early 1900s.
Working as a chainmaker, tree surgeon and professional boxer, he spent his free time perusing the local library – a small room in the back of what is the present-day Kent Free Library. It is there that he met a young librarian who encouraged him to pursue his literary ambitions.
Soon, he began writing. Poetry mostly, which was published in local newspapers.
Details such as these prompted Bauer and Dawidziak to become increasingly infatuated with Tully. They found his writing to be gritty, yet poetic, and they saw his ties to Kent as serendipitous.
Bauer could stand beneath the large wall clock in the library and imagine it was the same one that Tully unsuccessfully proposed to the librarian beneath. He could gaze out over the train tracks and imagine Tully arriving in Kent near what is now the Pufferbelly restaurant.
Having found a large amount of Tully’s papers at UCLA, Bauer and Dawidziak took trips to California. To their amazement, nobody had ever rummaged through Tully’s archives, which filled 117 boxes.
Upon seeing this mass of boxes, they knew for sure they had enough information to write the biography. They madly scribbled on notepads as much information as they could and knew they had to find a publisher back home.
The Long Road Home
“My own opinion is that the greatest man of any era has made no dint at all in the armor-plate of his time,” Tully once wrote.
As far as the modern literary world was concerned, Tully no longer existed – even though his life story contained multitudes of historically pertinent subject matter, such as boxing, the circus, Hollywood and railroads.
So, in addition to the task of concisely compiling this drifter’s experiences, Bauer and Dawidziak had to convince a publisher of his relevance.
They believed Tully to be a missing link in the hard-boiled writing tradition of authors such as Jack London, Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac.
Still, while each publisher they encountered found the book to be rich and full of potential, the problem of Tully’s obscurity lingered.
The two continued writing and, splitting chapters, their voices merged into one.
Finally, within walking distance from where he stood when he first heard the name Jim Tully, Bauer found a publisher – The Kent State University Press.
In addition to publishing the biography, Jim Tully: American Writer, Irish Rover, Hollywood Brawler, which will be released in May, the university press also decided to rerelease six of Tully’s books.
Bauer and Dawidziak will now travel the country promoting their book.
In honor of Tully and his love of libraries, they will speak at as many of them as possible, potentially bringing a forgotten piece of American history back to life.
Though Bauer’s bookstore is now a digital manifestation, he still keeps a small office beneath Last Exit Books on Main St.
Down there, he can disappear into his thoughts. Often, he thinks about Tully – a man who history tried to forget, but Bauer never will.