Instead of going to college after his accident, James designed a program for his own education. He concentrated on reading books from one country and then from another. James gradually moved form reading to writing. James was first paid for his writing in his mid-twenties when he published articles in Wallace's Farmer.
Hearst's distinguished 34-year career as a professor of Creative Writing began in 1941 when Dr. H. W. Reninger, Head of the English Department at the Iowa State Teachers College, invited James to teach creative writing classes for the college.
James was 43 when he married Carmelita Claderwood. They first met at a party in high school and became acquainted again in Iowa City where she was working as a nurse. Five years after they married, she was diagnosed with cancer. She lived for another two years. Meryl Norton was a very good friend of Carmelita Calderwood Hearst. After Carmelita's death, James and Meryl corresponded regularly. James often said he courted Meryl through correspondence. They were married in 1953.
In 1963, James was invited to be the poet-in-residence at the Aspen, Colorado Summer Arts and Performance Festival. He returned to Aspen each summer for 13 years. In 1975, the University of Northern Iowa conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature on Hearst. In November 1981, a Tribute to James Hearst was presented on the University campus. In 1982, Iowa's Governor, Robert D. Ray, presented James with the State of Iowa Arts/Humanities/Aging Honor of outstanding Service.
James published more than 600 poems during his lifetime. These poems present a realistic picture of life on an Iowa farm. He wrote 12 books of poetry, several books of prose, and an autobiography. His work appeared in hundreds of periodicals including the New York Times, Saturday Evening Post, and Ladies Home Journal. James Hearst died in 1983. His poetry continues to be published and his legacy lives on.