For the opening event of the 2014 Auburn Writers Conference, a reading was held to honor Jake Adam York, an Auburn University alumnus whose four collections of poetry address the Civil Rights movement in Alabama. Poets and friends Dan Albergotti, Jeanie Thompson, and Brian Barker, along with York’s long-time editor Jon Tribble, presented a tandem reading from York’s posthumously published collection, Abide. Joining them was Amanda Gunn, the winner of Southern Humanities Review’s inaugural Auburn Witness Poetry Prize Honoring Jake Adam York. This was the first year that Auburn’s storied national literary magazine offered the prize, and the editors are proud to honor York’s legacy by continuing the prize annually.
PHOTOS BY RAYE MAY
ABOUT JAKE ADAM YORK
York was an award-winning poet, the celebrated author of four collections of poetry, a fifth-generation Alabamian, and an undergraduate alum of Auburn University. He first came to poetry working with the faculty of Auburn’s Department of English and went on to write poems that, with both love and anguish, examined race relations in the South, celebrating the triumphs of the Civil Rights movement and questioning, as a native son of the South, his own complicity in its tragedies. The earliest versions of these poems—which went on to garner numerous awards and publication honors—can be found in York’s senior thesis, written at Auburn and housed in our library.
Natasha Trethewey, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author and former Auburn professor of English, described York’s collection A Murmuration of Starlings as "a fierce, beautiful, necessary book. Fearless in their reckoning, these poems resurrect contested histories and show us that the past—with its troubled beauty, its erasures, and its violence—weighs upon us all . . . a murmuration so that we don't forget, so that no one disappears into history."
York died unexpectedly of a stroke at the age of forty in the winter of 2012, leaving behind a body of work that bears witness to our difficult past, and, as all great poems of witness do, lights a way toward understanding. The Auburn Witness Poetry Prize honors not only York’s work, but also his deep and enduring commitment to his home and community in Alabama and Auburn. Keetje Kuipers, SHR Poetry Editor, has said, “Jake Adam York’s legacy as a writer of deep conviction and fearless examination recasts our gaze, both in Alabama and as a nation: Looking back into a difficult history can be a terrifying proposition, but, as his poems demonstrate, the tremendous reward is a richly renewed sight that allows not only for witness but also for compassion.”