Albert Goldbarth Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

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.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Albert Goldbarth was one of the most celebrated, prolific, and widely anthologized American poets of the late twentieth century, prompting biographer David Starkey to observe that Goldbarth “has produced in less than twenty years a body of work that has had an undeniable impact on contemporary American poetry.” Goldbarth grew up in a middle-class Jewish household in Chicago, the son of insurance underwriter Irving Goldbarth and his wife, Fannie Goldbarth (née Seligman), who worked as a secretary. Albert received a B.A. from the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle campus, in 1969 and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa creative writing program in 1971. He taught at Chicago’s Elgin Community College from 1971 to 1972 and completed a year’s work toward a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Utah in 1973.

Goldbarth received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in creative writing in 1974 and taught briefly at both Cornell and Syracuse Universities before accepting a position as professor of creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a faculty member from 1977 to 1987. In 1987 he was named distinguished professor of humanities at Wichita State University in Kansas.

Although he enjoyed a distinguished career as an academic, Goldbarth’s widely diverse and consistent output as a poet is what merits his place as one of American poetry’s most important innovators. The depth and diversity of his numerous poetic works rival those of any noteworthy poet of his time and eclipses most. While most poets are fortunate merely to be linked with one particular stylistic or thematic landscape, Goldbarth’s poetry runs the gamut of tastes and territories, exhibiting a unique mastery of genres as divergent as the long poem, the personal lyric, the narrative, and the satire. Goldbarth’s many chapbooks, full-length volumes, and retrospectives offer not only short lyric poems but also sequences,...

(The entire section is 804 words.)