An Interview with A. Cleveland Harrison, author of A Little Rock Boyhood

Q. Why was it important for you to write about your early years?
A. As I grow older, I meditate more often about the past. My memories bubble up every day when some event reminds me of the past. I am not alone in this habit, but my unusually strong visual and auditory memory works overtime to bring back events from my past. Perhaps my visual and auditory sensibilities are part of a natural actor/director’s propensities that I discovered early in my life. Images of people, places, and events from my early life are even better than some I have from more recent times. And I enjoy hearing recollections by other people, especially of times past.

Q. What prompted you to decide you wanted to write this story of your early life?
A. I had to write about my experiences to keep busy after a professional life as a teacher and director, always with projects in progress. I almost never took a vacation of any length without working on a play script of an upcoming production. My life at the university was one of keeping up with recent literature in my academic discipline, preparing and delivering lectures, grading student essays and exams, evaluating student acting, directing performances, choosing plays to direct for the main season, holding play auditions, and rehearsing plays in the evenings and on weekends.

Q. Will you tell us about some of your other writing projects?
A. My first project was writing Unsung Valor: A GI’s Story of WW II, which I had to get on paper to get it out of my mind, where it had rested silently for over forty years. Then, my sister-in-law encouraged me to write my memories of going to school in Little Rock before World War II, perhaps the happiest years of my life. So, I embarked on essays for the Pulaski County Historical Review in Little Rock, which were all accepted and printed over a period of four or five years. Two of them won Arkansas Historical Association awards for the best school histories of 2000 and 2002. Those essays were the foundation and beginning of A Little Rock Boyhood: Growing Up in the Great Depression.

Q. What are your most vivid impressions from growing up in Arkansas?
A. If I were to repeat my favorite stories from childhood, I repeat the text of A Little Rock Boyhood, which features events that remained vividly impressed upon my memory. In recalling those times, I enjoyed being in Warren, Arkansas, and with my grandparents in McRae and Beebe. My grandfathers’ manners of conducting business and the behaviors and manners of their customers were so different from those of the men in my immediate family. As much as I enjoyed visiting them, I did not wish to live in any small towns.

Q. Isn’t the idea of public education central to your formative years?
A. Perhaps the oddest part of my life, to some readers, may be how much I liked public schools. In spite of a few difficult teachers, I found fulfillment in all my courses. Also, I was encouraged by my mother. She used my experience at school so she could learn, too. As I had my snack and drink at home after school each day, she had me repeat the most important things I’d learned that day.

Q. What else was important to you when you were growing up?
A. The most important thing I learned was about honest work. My parents and brother were wonderful examples of hard workers who treated their bosses, fellow workers, and customers with respect. Although they spent long hours every day, from quite early in the morning until late every day, even at night, in the workplace, they never complained. My mother not only worked at home but took in jobs away from home. Although they never came to school events in which I was involved, my parents gave me complete support and praised the quality of my work and extracurricular attainments at school.

Q. What did you learn about the work ethic in those years?
A. One important lesson my parents delivered was that no job is beneath you. All jobs can be performed with pride and discipline. Most of a family’s needs are provided by the family itself, without depending upon the government for help. My parents believed the Democratic Party had more concern for ordinary people facing social and financial problems than the Republicans ever did.

Q. What other things influenced your childhood?
A. I was fortunate to have friends of both sexes who were strong and good influences on me. My activities at the Second Baptist Church were a continuous influence on me, as were those in the Boy Scouts. I learned theater principles going to motion pictures, acquired a variety of skills in school clubs, and held responsible positions in student affairs.