Young, Stark (1881–1963)

By: John Pilkington

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: April 6, 2019

Stark Young, man of letters and painter, son of Alfred Alexander and Mary Clark (Starks) Young, was born at Como, Mississippi, on October 11, 1881. His father was a Civil War veteran and a prominent physician in Como and Oxford. Young's mother, a member of the wealthy planter family of McGehees, died when Young was eight years old. He was reared for the most part by his mother's maiden sisters and his uncle Hugh McGehee. From these antecedents he received the traditional values and southern point of view that became features of his writings. In 1895 Alfred Alexander Young married again and moved Stark and his sister, Julia, to Oxford, Mississippi. After receiving his education in the classics and languages at the University of Mississippi (B.A., 1901) and at Columbia University (M.A., 1902), Young taught English literature at the University of Mississippi (1905–07), the University of Texas (1907–15), and Amherst College (1915–21). At the University of Texas he helped to found the Curtain Club, one of the first successful little theater groups in the United States. Young directed its plays, coached its student actors, and translated foreign plays for its productions. At the same time, he was a popular teacher and lecturer. In 1912 he published Addio, Madretto and Other Plays, and in 1915 he founded the Texas Review, a journal devoted to the arts and humanities. During Young's tenure at the University of Texas, his sister came to live with him. In 1914 she married John Benjamin Robertson, and after a brief period in San Antonio the Robertsons made their home permanently in Austin. After Young moved away from Austin, he returned to spend many holidays and summers with the Robertsons. He was deeply attached to them and to the area, which became the setting for a number of his stories and sketches. From 1915 to 1921 Young taught English literature at Amherst College. During these years his essays on various subjects, including the theatre, began to appear in such periodicals as the New Republic, the Nation, the North American Review, the Yale Review, and Theatre Arts Magazine. After a year of writing in Spain, Young resigned from Amherst and moved to New York City, his home for the remainder of his life. There he soon became a member of the editorial board of both the New Republic and Theatre Arts Magazine. To these periodicals he contributed hundreds of articles, mainly dealing with the theater. Except for a brief period (1924–25), when he served as drama critic for the New York Times, Young remained associated with the New Republic until 1947, when he retired. In the 1920s and 1930s, the years of his most productive work, Young published a series of books on drama containing essays based largely upon his reviews of New York productions and written for the New Republic and Theatre Arts Magazine. These volumes include The Flower in Drama (1923), Glamour (1925), Theater Practice (1926), and The Theater (1927). Later he collected the best of his drama reviews in Immortal Shadows (1948). These volumes established him as a leading drama critic in the country.

During these years Young also wrote several plays, including The Colonnade (1925) and The Saint (1925), that were staged with critical success; directed the Theatre Guild's New York production of Henri René Lenormand's The Failures, Eugene O' Neill's Welded, and Molière's George Dandin; and published four books of fiction. Young's novels, Heaven Trees (1926), The Torches Flare (1928), River House (1929), and So Red the Rose (1934), have a Mississippi background and contrast southern manners, ideas, and attitudes with northern ways of living. In So Red the Rose Young has written perhaps the finest novel of the Civil War seen from the southern point of view. The book became a bestseller and a popular motion picture and has remained in print ever since its initial publication. In 1930 Young wrote the concluding essay, "Not in Memoriam, but in Defense," for the southern agrarian manifesto I'll Take My Stand. In it Young argued the case for the southern way of life that he had already expressed in fiction.

Near the end of the 1930s Young translated Anton Chekhov's The Sea Gull for the immensely successful New York production starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. In succeeding years Young translated other Chekhov plays that were widely used in both little theater and professional performances. In 1956 Young's translations were collected and published in the Random House Modern Library series. In 1939 Young wrote a romantic comedy, first entitled Belle Isle and later Artemise, for the Lunts. After enthusiastically accepting the play, the Lunts failed to produce it, and in 1942 Young had it privately printed. Embittered by the Lunts' rejection of Artemise, the tragic death in 1936 of the Robertsons' only son, Young's namesake, Stark Young Robertson, during his freshman year at Yale, and what he saw as the decline of the American theater, Young resigned from the New Republic and Theatre Arts Magazine. As a relaxation he began to paint flowers and landscapes and had two one-man exhibitions in New York that were praised by critics. In 1951 Scribner's published his autobiography, The Pavilion. Young died in New York on January 6, 1963. Stark Young will be remembered primarily for his drama criticism and his Civil War novel, but his major contribution was to the arts in general. He devoted his life to the arts and belongs to the cultural history of America. Few have equalled his insight into the nature of art, and even fewer have surpassed his achievements. America has never had a drama critic quite like him; and until the theater enjoys another renaissance like the one in the 1920s and the 1930s, it may not see Young's equal.

John Pilkington, Stark Young (Boston: Twayne, 1985). John Pilkington, ed., Stark Young, A Life in the Arts: Letters, 1900–1962 (2 vols., Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1975). Bedford Thurman, Stark Young: A Bibliography of His Writings with a Selective Index to His Criticism of the Arts (Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, 1954).

  • Education
  • Educators
  • English and Journalism
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • Scholars, Editors, and Critics

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

John Pilkington, “Young, Stark,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 16, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 6, 2019