Stark Young, known chiefly as the author of So Red the Rose and often ranked as a minor figure among the Southern Agrarians, was born in Mississippi in 1881. When a typhoid epidemic closed the preparatory school he was attending, he was allowed to enter the University of Mississippi at the age of fourteen. After graduating in 1901 he continued his studies at Columbia University, from which he received his master’s degree in English in 1902.
His first career was in the classroom. After a short period of teaching in a military school for boys he became an instructor in English at the University of Mississippi in 1904. Three years later he joined the faculty of the University of Texas, where he taught until 1915, when he became professor of English at Amherst College. In 1921 he resigned to become a member of the editorial staff of the New Republic, a position he held until 1947, except for one year (1924-1925) when he served as drama critic of The New York Times. Concurrently he was an associate editor of Theatre Arts Monthly from 1921 to 1940. His close association with the theater resulted in five books of drama criticism, the plays he wrote in both prose and verse, translations, and the direction of several productions, including that of Henri-René Lenormand’s The Failures and Eugene O’Neill’s Welded, on Broadway.
Young’s most sustained work was in the novel. So Red the Rose, one of the earliest and most popular of the Civil War novels, achieves scope and depth because the writer has dramatized against a factual historical background the symbolic conflict between opposing forces of tradition and disintegration implicit in southern life and character. This novel and Young’s earlier ones—Heaven Trees, a nostalgic re-creation of plantation life in antebellum days, and The Torches Flare and River House, which deal with later periods of the regional experience—make up, in effect, four panels of a dramatic and somberly realized social and moral history of the South. Young also declared his local loyalties in an essay in I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, written for a symposium by “Twelve Southerners” and published in 1930.