Dean Young’s work was humorous, heartbreaking, and deeply influential in the field of contemporary poetry, and it continues to inspire people even after his death.
Young was an award-winning poet, mentor, and close friend to many who he inspired with his decades of written work. A former Iowa Writers’ Workshop faculty member, his connection to the University of Iowa and surrounding literary community is unmeasurable. On Aug. 23, Young died at the age of 67 due to complications from COVID-19.
Born in 1955 in Columbia, Pennsylvania, Young earned his Master’s of Fine Arts from Indiana University. He taught for many years at the University of Texas at Austin, where he held the William Livingston Chair of Poetry. He was also chosen as Texas Poet Laureate in 2014.
Dan Rosenberg is an associate professor and the English department chair at Wells College, and a former student of Young’s. Rosenberg was a poetry student in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and studied directly under Young from 2005-07. He remained a friend and Young’s mentee for years afterward. Rosenberg still uses Young’s work in the curriculum he teaches.
“The thing that stands out to me is the wild permissions he gave all of us — a Dean Young workshop was a generative space,” Rosenberg said. “He was a person who was committed to a joyful relationship to writing, and to the teaching and studying of writing. All of that I think is the most impactful legacy for me that he’s left behind.”
Rosenberg said one of his favorite pieces of Young’s remains the poem he wrote for Rosenberg’s class graduation in lieu of an official speech: “Commencement address.” He said it encapsulates the sense of wonder shown in much of Young’s work, alongside a “frantic pleasure” that Young “straddled beautifully.”