By Mark Stanley and Tracy Steely
Amber Clark has deep roots in Walton County. Her great-grandmother was the first postmaster on the “Star Route” in South Walton, and one of her family homes was the Santa Rosa Beach library at one point. She lives in Santa Rosa Beach on a bayou with her dogs, plants, and partner.
Tell us about your career and what you love most about it. “I teach English, literature, and creative writing at Gulf Coast State College. I am also the director of the honors program. As someone who got a great education at a local community college and then transferred successfully to elite schools, I’ve always believed that education is the great leveler. Teaching in the community/state college arena brings me great joy in that regard. I love seeing those “a-ha” moments on students’ faces when they have an epiphany in class that actually changes their lives.
What led you to your current career? “My plan was to work in NYC in book publishing. Then 9-11 happened and the bottom fell out of that industry. I went back to grad school with the desire to focus on writing and editing, to advocate for writers and writing, and decide what next. Being a teacher was never my articulated dream, but it is definitely a calling I could not ignore. People told me “You’d be a great teacher” so many times I lost count. Then I ran into my old English teacher from Freeport High School, who was also teaching at the local college. She jokingly urged me to hurry up so she could retire. That planted the seed. I’ve never looked back.
How long have you lived in Walton County? “Off and on my entire life. I was a hostess at The Cattle Company (which used to be in “Cano Square”) as a teenager, and I have worked ever since. I spent over a decade working at The Red Bar while I finished college and graduate school. Before I began teaching I worked for Turnberry Associates as we built Destin Commons.”
What is your favorite thing about our community? “How we pull together in times of crisis – from hurricanes to pandemics. All the barriers between people (class, politics, etc.) slip away in the darkest times. I hope as the community grows we maintain that element.”
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met in Walton County? “John ‘Jabo’ Starks was not only the resident drummer at the Red Bar and for numerous musicians like Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and James Brown, but he was a dear friend whom I interviewed weekly for nearly 9 months. His life was riveting, and his biography truly captured the zeitgeist of the 20th century, through the Jim Crow South, Civil Rights, and Dr. King’s assassination to the Rumble in the Jungle and the rich arts and music scene that evolved throughout his life. Unfortunately, he recently passed away, but we were all made better by knowing him.”
If you could choose anyone to have lunch with, who would it be? “Writers Margaret Atwood or George Saunders – I’d take them to The Red Bar on a Sunday in the late 90’s. Then to a sunset bonfire and low country boil in Blue Mountain Beach.”
What is on your bucket list? “To take a long slow Kerala boat tour through India.”
Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years? “I would love to build an artists & writers retreat/residency in Walton County with a functioning co-op as well.”
Finally, what advice do you have? “1. Show up. 2. Do what you do with intention. 3. Speak your truth. 4. Do not get attached to the results. My variation on the Four Agreements. If something in my life is not working, it’s because I am not practicing one or more of these ideas. Also, a working motto: Work is love made visible – Kahlil Gibran”
Tracy Steely and Mark Stanley are the hosts of a community website called The Faces of Walton County. The project aims to showcase the diverse residents of our community, one Face at a time. To nominate someone for an interview visit www.thefacesofwaltoncounty.com or call Tracy at 850-803-9822.
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