Always the Young Strangers Essay - Critical Context

Carl Sandburg

Critical Context

January 6, 1953—Carl Sandburg’s seventy-fifth birthday—marked the publication of Always the Young Strangers. The reviews of critics were almost unanimous in calling it the best autobiography ever published. They praised it not only for capturing the boyhood of the artist Carl Sandburg but also for painting the portrait of a prairie town long gone. In 1955, Sandburg published a children’s version of Always the Young Strangers called Prairie Town Boy. His title for the second work seems to emphasize the most important theme of the original.

Sandburg was so pleased with the experience of writing Always the Young Strangers and with its highly enthusiastic critical reception that he immediately started work on a sequel to begin where the first had ended, with his matriculation at Lombard College. He wrote fifteen chapters of the sequel but died before its completion. The completed chapters were prepared for publication in 1983 by Margaret Sandburg and George Hendrick and given the title Ever the Winds of Chance.

The life of Sandburg is important to students for many reasons. In addition to reading about the life of one of America’s best-known and best-loved personalities, young adults can appreciate a classic example of American prose. Many of the chapters in Always the Young Strangers can be enjoyed outside the context of the autobiography and for that reason have appeared in many anthologies. Some of the favorite chapters are “Man-child,” “School Days,” “Along Berrien Street,” “Theme in Shadow and Gold,” “Hobo,” and “Soldier.” The continuing popularity of Always the Young Strangers was evidenced by a 1991 paperback edition.