Reading series author Jake Adam York dies at 40 (Video and audio)

Carolina Astrain By Carolina Astrain

Dec. 17, 2012 at 6:17 a.m.
Updated Dec. 18, 2012 at 6:18 a.m.

Adam Jake York

Adam Jake York

A poet who memorialized martyrs of the civil rights movement, who was a barbecue aficionado and a rising literary heavyweight - Jake Adam York - died suddenly Sunday.

The cause of death has not been confirmed.

York was the last reader in the University of Houston-Victoria's American Book Review fall reading series in November.

Jeffrey Sartain, UHV's English program director, received an email from his department's dean early Monday morning informing him of York's death.

"It's a huge loss to lose a writer at the prime of his career like Jake was," Sartain said while riding home for Christmas through the hills of southern Indiana. "His poetry was focused outwardly, whereas a lot of poetry is inwardly focused. That really made him different."

Shortly before his visit to Victoria, York was awarded $25,000 by the National Endowment for the Arts for poetry.

As part of the ABR, York gave a tearful reading of his poem, "Grace."

"That was my favorite poem he read that day," Sartain said. "His sense of place and community combined with his powerful delivery was very striking."

According to York's website, his stop in Victoria was his last public reading.

Ramapo College of New Jersey was his next scheduled stop, slated for Feb. 18.

Ember Dooling, St. Joseph High School English teacher, brought students from the private high school to the university readings.

"He was a force of peace so essential in our world," Dooling wrote in a email. "What an honor to have spent time with him."

Sartain said he remembers becoming fast friends with York during his visit to Victoria.

"Several of us went to Mumphord's (Place) for lunch," Sartain said. "We take the writers there to give them a taste of Texas barbecue."

York was the author of three books of poems: "Murder Ballads," winner of the 2005 Elixir Press Prize in Poetry; "A Murmuration of Starlings," winner of the 2009 Colorado Book Award in Poetry and "Persons Unknown."

"It struck me how committed Jake was to his project of memorializing all these civil rights martyrs," Sartain said. "He talked about this being a lifelong project he never expected to finish."



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