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Dark Miracles of Chance

Jan Hensley

Greensboro resident Jan Hensley just donated his book collection to the Z. Smith Reynolds Library’s Special Collections and Archives at Wake Forest University. And what a collection: more than 10,000 books, including “autographed copies and first editions, and upward of 50,000 ephemera, including chapbooks, newspaper and magazine articles, letters, journals and personal notes of his interactions with authors.”

The majority of these are by and about North Carolina authors.

“The last half-century saw a tremendous outburst of good writing from North Carolina. Jan Hensley saw it all, too,” said Ed Southern (’94), executive director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. “What’s most significant about Jan’s collection is that he gathers all those first editions, and takes all those photos, not as an outsider or observer, but as an active participant in the literary community. He is a part of what he’s preserved.”

“Dark miracles of chance,” to quote from Thomas Wolfe, played an outsized role in Hensley’s lifelong obsession. It all began when he played the character of Luke in a theatrical adaptation of Look Homeward, Angel. This turned him onto Wolfe, whose works he began collecting. Years later, at a Eudora Welty signing, he had a major epiphany. He didn’t just want to collect books. He wanted to collect books signed by contemporary North Carolina authors. And the rest is history.

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