Introspection as Social Commentary
Al Young’s distinctive and finely wrought poetry documents the personal odyssey of a clear-sighted and sensitive man in a period of social and political turmoil. Young’s poetry seldom takes the form of an overt political manifesto or social commentary. He is a practitioner of a time-honored tradition of lyric poetry that comments on the larger issues of society by a close introspection of everyday life and private emotions.
Young’s writing has earned him numerous awards, including a Wallace E. Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship, the Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, two American Book Awards, the PEN-USA Award for Nonfiction, and a Fulbright Fellowship that enabled him to travel and work in Eastern Europe. He has taught at several institutions, including Rice University, Stanford University, Davidson College, and the University of California’s campuses at Santa Cruz and at Berkeley. In 2005, he was appointed California’s poet laureate. Three years later, he received the Fred Cody Award for lifetime achievement in literature. In addition to poetry, Young is also the author of several highly acclaimed novels, a trilogy of innovative “musical memoirs,” and screenplays for such Hollywood films as Sparkle (1976) and Uptown Saturday Night (1974). It was poetry, however, that first brought him to attention as an important voice in contemporary American letters.
The son of Albert and Mary Campbell Young, poet Albert James Young was born in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, on May 31, 1939. His father, a professional jazz musician during the 1930’s, became an autoworker when he moved the family to Detroit, Michigan, in 1946. During his youth, Young spent summers in rural Mississippi but attended public schools in Detroit, graduating from Central High School. Young attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of California at Berkeley while also pursuing a professional career as a jazz flutist, singer, and guitarist in the folk-music style popular on college campuses in the early 1960’s. He received a B.A. from the University of California in 1969 and published his first collection of poems, Dancing, that same year.