Holman enjoyed a lofty position among scholars of American literature. Embracing his southern roots and a sense of the tragic, he gave a major part of his scholarly effort to southern writing.
Educator, author. Holman was born in Cross Anchor on February 24, 1914, the son of David Marion Holman and Jessie Pearl Davis. Following early schooling in Gaffney and Clinton, he entered Presbyterian College, where he majored in chemistry and graduated magna cum laude in 1936. He remained at Presbyterian to serve as publicity director until 1939, concurrently earning a bachelor of arts degree in English (1939). He served as Presbyterian’s director of radio from 1939 to 1942, writing more than two hundred fifteen-minute plays on southern history as well as teaching radio production and writing. He married Verna Virginia McLeod of Ocala, Florida, on September 1, 1938. Two children were born to their union.
During World War II, Holman held numerous part-time posts: publicity director for the South Carolina Council for National Defense (1942–1944); instructor in physics and academic coordinator, 2199th AAF Base Unit, in Clinton (1942–1945); editor for Jacobs Press: Regional Books in Clinton (1942–1944); and instructor in English at Presbyterian (1942–1944). He served as academic dean at Presbyterian in 1945 and 1946.
The gifted Holman had also begun writing detective novels. The first, Death Like Thunder, was published in 1942. Five others followed in rapid succession, the last being Small Town Murder, published in 1951 under the pseudonym “Clarence Hunt.” Holman did not, however, envision such work to be the center of his professional life. In 1946 he began graduate study in English at the University of North Carolina, earning his doctorate three years later. His dissertation was on “William Gilmore Simms’s Theory and Practice of Historical Fiction.” Duly impressed with Holman’s record as teacher and scholar, the English department at the University of North Carolina invited him to remain as assistant professor.
Holman’s ascension through the ranks and to the highest positions in the university was meteoric. He served as chairman of the English department from 1957 to 1962 and was named Kenan Professor of English in 1959. He also held a series of influential administrative positions, including assistant dean (1954–1955) and acting dean (1956–1959) of Arts and Sciences. He was dean of the Graduate School from 1963 to 1966, provost from 1966 to 1968, and special assistant to the chancellor from 1972 to 1978.
Holman enjoyed a lofty position among scholars of American literature. Embracing his southern roots and a sense of the tragic, he gave a major part of his scholarly effort to southern writing. He wrote, cowrote, or edited some twenty-six books of nonfiction and seventy professional articles. He was instrumental in bringing Louis D. Rubin, Jr., to Chapel Hill in 1969, and together they transformed the study of southern letters. They founded the Southern Literary Journal and coedited it for two decades. Best known for his writing on Thomas Wolfe and his several revisions of A Handbook to Literature, Holman wrote graceful essays on a wide range of authors and was a skilled editor.
Holman’s many honors culminated in his appointment as Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1980). South Carolina took pride in the career of this native son. In 1963 Presbyterian College awarded him an honorary doctor of letters degree; in 1969 Clemson University awarded him the doctor of humanities degree to celebrate his dedication as a classroom teacher. Holman died in Chapel Hill on October 13, 1981, and was buried in Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery.