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.
Please tell us about your current career. Things you love most about what you do. “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. So teaching in the community/state college arena brings me great joy in that regard. Mostly, I love seeing those “a-ha” moments on students’ faces when they have an epiphany in class that actually changes their lives. I love seeing students go from being uncertain about their academic ability to graduating with honors and moving into their careers. Focusing on the equitable ways that relationships help people succeed and learn (and away from transactional education) is a great passion of mine.”
What inspired you or led you to your current career? “Right out of undergrad, my plan was to work in NYC in book publishing. Then 9-11 happened and the bottom fell out of that industry as well as many others. 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 or worked in our community? “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. I have commuted daily to Gulf Coast State College since 2009.”
What is your favorite thing about our community? “I love how the community pulls together in times of crisis – from hurricanes (Opal, Ivan, Michael) to pandemics. I’m not sure if it’s unique to our community but it’s definitely my favorite thing. All the fake barriers between people (class, politics, etc.) slip away in the darkest times. I hope as the community grows we maintain that element.”
What current or former local business makes you the most nostalgic about our community? “THE RED BAR!”
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met here in our community? “John ‘Jabo’ Starks was not only the resident drummer at the Red Bar and for numerous famous musicians, like Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and James Brown, but he was a dear friend whom I interviewed weekly for hours 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 that is alive today and not a relative; who would you have lunch with and where would you go locally? “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 at Bare Tit Beach. (That’s Blue Mountain Beach, by the way)”
What is something 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.”
What is something interesting that most people don’t know about you? “I belong to the Lower Muskogee Creek Indian tribe.”
What is the most beautiful place you have ever been? “Italy – from it’s top to its toe. Positano, Borghese Gardens, the non-Catholic cemetery in Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, Capri… the list is too long. It’s a stunning place, and they get a lot right.”
Who inspires you to be better? “My mother and nieces, students, my great friend and colleague, Sandra Pugh. Generations of women and men who worked relentlessly to give me all the opportunities I have today.”
Finally, What advice would you give to people? “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”