Al Young Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Albert James Young was born in Mississippi in 1939 to Albert James, an auto worker and a musician, and his wife. The family lived in rural Mississippi until 1946, when they moved to Detroit, but even after that Young often spent summers in the South. That area consequently exerted a strong influence on his development. After attending the University of Michigan from 1957 to 1961 he moved to the San Francisco area. Later he attended Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley, and he received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Berkeley in 1969. He married in 1963 and had one son.

Among the many jobs Al Young assumed during his early life was that of professional musician; in fact, he considers himself as much a musician as a writer, and his participation in and enjoyment of that other means of artistic expression informs and is often the subject of his written work. As he explains in his three volumes of “musical memories” (Bodies and Soul, Kinds of Blue, and Things Ain’t What They Used to Be), music became a means of understanding life even before he began to play music. Young’s first book, Dancing, is a volume of poems that seem to demand oral expression. The work’s title is a further clue to Young’s view that music helps people to understand and express themselves. Those who hear the music can no longer remain the same, so they dance, helping to complete the statement made by the music as they “analyze” it with their physical responses.

Young’s first novel, Snakes, is an “education” novel about MC, a young black adolescent from Detroit who resembles Young himself and who, with his band, writes and performs a song, “Snakes,” that is a local hit. The band dissolves and the euphoria dissipates, but the young hero wants to continue his musical career and sets out on a bus for New York, leaving behind the grandmother who had raised him lovingly after the deaths of his parents. This novel includes that important theme in Young’s oeuvre, close family ties and both the warmth and the restrictions that develop from...

(The entire section is 870 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Al Young was born Albert James Young, the son of Mary (Campbell) and Albert James Young. He attended the University of Michigan from 1957 to 1961 before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1961. There he received his bachelor of arts degree in Spanish from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1969. He and his wife, Arline June (Belch), were married in 1963 and have a son, Michael James Young.

Among various other jobs, Young’s early career included an acting role in a television documentary about Archie Moore, a year as a disc jockey, and, prior to that, eight years as a professional jazz musician. His love of music deeply influences his writing, and music and musicians are often among its subjects.

Young taught writing at the San Francisco Museum of Art during the late 1960’s and was linguistic consultant for the Berkeley Neighborhood Youth Corps. From 1969 to 1973, he held Stanford University’s Edward H. Jones Lectureship in Creative Writing. He was the 1979 director of Associated Writing Programs, an organization of graduate university administrators, teachers, and students of creative writing; was writer-in-residence at the University of Washington from 1981 to 1982; and served as consultant to the New York writer’s organization Poets and Writers in 1974 and 1975.

Young lectured at numerous universities in the United States and traveled extensively in Canada, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, and France. He has also had presentations of his work produced and broadcast by KQED-TV San Francisco and by the Pacifica Radio Network.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Albert James Young was born in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, near Biloxi, on the Gulf of Mexico. His childhood, which he characterizes as happy, was divided between rural Mississippi and urban Detroit. Though he moved through several communities and schools, he values the flexibility that he gained by adapting to different subcultures. His father was an auto worker (in part, the model for Durwood Knight’s father in Ask Me Now), and also a professional musician, like his son. For five years, Young sang and played the flute and guitar professionally, at first while attending the University of Michigan, then while working as a disc jockey at radio station KJAZ-FM, in Alameda, California. The character MC in Snakes reflects some of Young’s aspirations as a young jazz musician, and the poem “A Little More Traveling Music” reflects his divided roots in rural and urban music. American blues and jazz and their origins in African music have influenced the themes and the formal structures of Young’s fiction and poetry.

Young has credited his interest in writing narratives to his early exposure to the art of southern storytelling, and his fictional and poetic use of regional and ethnic vernacular draws on his memories of southern speech as well as his wide reading in American literature (especially the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Mark Twain, Langston Hughes, and Jesse Stuart) and British and European literature. Young married a freelance...

(The entire section is 491 words.)