Stark Young

Stark Young (1881-1963) was a drama critic, editor, translator, painter, playwright, and novelist.

Stark Young was born in Como, Mississippi, on October 11, 1881, the son of a physician in a family which traced its ancestry in the United States back to 1795. Young received his Bachelor's degree from the University of Mississippi in 1901 and his Master's degree in English from Columbia University in 1902. For the next six months he lived in a hut in the North Carolina mountains studying Dante and other classic poets and writing poems. In 1903 he accepted a position teaching at a military school in Water Valley, Mississippi. In 1905 he accepted a position in the English Department at the University of Mississippi.

Young published his first volume of poetry, The Blind Man at the Window, and his verse play Guenevere in 1906. A year later he left the University of Mississippi to accept a position at the University of Texas, where he founded the Curtain Club in 1909. In 1912 he published a collection of short plays, Addio, Madretto and Other Plays, and translated Jean Regnard's Le legataire universal. While still at the University of Texas Young founded the Texas Review (1915), which later became the Southwest Review when it was transferred to Southern Methodist University. From 1915 to 1920 Young was professor of English at Amherst College. During this time he published his first articles in the New Republic. In 1922 he became an editor for Theatre Arts Magazine, drama critic for the New Republic, and member of the editorial board of the New Republic, a magazine with which he would be connected until 1947.

In 1923 Young's first book of theatre criticism, The Flower in Drama, was published. He resigned from the New Republic to become drama critic for the New York Times in 1924, but a year later returned to the New Republic as drama critic and editor. In 1927 Young's most famous collection of critical essays, The Theatre, was published. For the next ten years he devoted himself to writing of all kinds, publishing essays, novels, collections of short stories, and plays. In 1938 Young translated Chekhov's The Sea Gull for an Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne production. Eventually, Young translated four Chekhov plays (The Sea Gull, The Cherry Orchard, The Three Sisters, and Uncle Vanya), all of which were produced in New York City by the 4th Street Theatre in 1955-1956 and appeared in the collection Best Plays of Chekhov (1956).

Young lectured frequently, and during 1925-1928 was a lecturer at the New School for Social Research in New York City. In 1931 he delivered the Westinghouse Lectures before leading Italian literary and philosophical societies in Rome, Florence, and Milan to acquaint students with American culture and ideals. For this he was made a commander of the Order of the Crown in Italy. He subsequently gave lectures at Cornell and Yale universities, the University of Mississippi, Wellesley College, and the Carnegie Institute of Technology. In 1958 he was the Theodore Spector Lecturer at Harvard University. In recognition of his contributions to the arts, he was awarded the Brandeis University Medal in 1958 and the Southern Theatre Association Award in 1959. A memorial room was established in his name at the University of Texas. He was a member of Sigma Chi, Sigma Upsilon, and Phi Beta Kappa. Stark Young died in New York City on January 6, 1963. He never married.

Young was a prolific letter writer. His letters, collected and edited into two volumes by John Pilkington, were published by Louisiana State University Press. Pilkington, in his introduction to Young's Letters, said of Young thaton both the scholarly and practical levels, Stark Young brought to his dramatic criticism an exhaustive knowledge of all the components required for the effective production of a play…. Young always had in mind a standard of excellence to which the particular component should conform. His knowledge of the parts, moreover, extended to a concept of the whole… . The public liked his forthrightness, while the actors, directors and designers learned professionally from his sharp remarks and thanked him for his advice.


Further Reading on Stark Young

In addition to the poetry, plays, and translations cited in the text, Young wrote a well-regarded historical novel, So Red the Rose (1934). His criticisms and essays reveal something of his persona, but probably the most information is contained in the two volumes of Letters (1975), edited by John Pilkington.

Additional Biography Sources

Pilkington, John, Stark Young, Boston: Twayne, 1985.