Albert Goldbarth is associated with the New Formalist movement and the modern confessional poets, and therefore, many details of his life are referred to or featured in his poems or book titles. Born and raised in Chicago, Goldbarth was impressed by its cold climate and sometimes seedy urban environment. While growing up, the youth learned Yiddish from his first-generation American parents and Hebrew from his not always diligent attention at Hebrew school. Both in youth and maturity, Goldbarth was impressed by the courage, industry, care, and love of his immigrant grandparents—Albert and Nettie Goldbarth, and especially Louis (“Louie”) and Rose (“Rosie”) Seligman. Also important were the Jewish culture and heritage transmitted by his grandparents and parents. The extended family—aunts Regina, Sally, Hannah, Elena, Ceclia, Tillie, Dinah; uncles Lou, Abe, Morrie; cousins Alice, Izzy, Rebecca, DeeDee—have all figured meaningfully in Goldbarth’s life and poems.
The hard work of his father, Irving (“Daddy Irv”), as an “insurance peddler,” and of his mother, Fannie, who cared for not only the young Goldbarth but also his sister, Livia, plus the warmth of the household, helped foster Albert’s (“Albie’s”) education, including his B.A. from the University of Illinois in Chicago in 1969. After completing an M.F.A. in poetry at the prestigious program at the University of Iowa in 1971, Goldbarth returned to Chicago and started a teaching career, ranging from Central YMCA Community College in Chicago to the University of Utah, Cornell University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Wichita State University in Kansas, where he became Adele Davis Distinguished Professor of Humanities. During his teaching career, Goldbarth has been moved by his students’ lives outside the classroom: for example, their deprived backgrounds or sometimes surprising off-campus jobs, such as exotic dancer.
From youth to maturity, Goldbarth has been interested in popular culture, such as comic books and science fiction, and involved in romance, which has led from Janice, Leah, Phyllis, Sylvia, Ellen, Elaine, Claudia, Anne, and Judy to former wife Morgan, and to wife Skyler. Friendships, including with such fellow writers as Tony Sorbin and John Crisp, have been crucial in the adult life of Goldbarth, as have illnesses: Goldbarth’s high cholesterol and back trouble, his sister Livia’s cancer concerns, and especially the illnesses and deaths of Goldbarth’s parents.