Remembering Professor Jake Adam York
UCD loses an accomplished poet and caring teacher
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 00:01
Tall of stature, bald-headed, intellectually gigantic, and passionate about literature, Dr. Jake Adam York, the CU Denver poetry professor who passed away unexpectedly of a stroke Dec. 16, could seem intimidating at first, but those who worked with him speak more than anything about his dedication and generosity to his students.
It is easy to talk about York’s numerous accomplishments. He received his MFA and PhD from Cornell University, published three award-winning poetry collections, and, about a month before his death, was named a 2013 Literature Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts.
“He moved mountains when he wanted to do so, and he usually had a few mountains in mind that needed moving,” said former UCD professor Jennifer S. Davis. One of these mountains was a lifelong dedication to commemorating martyrs of the civil rights movement, a project that blended historical fact and personal narrative in a way that is deceptively simple and hauntingly poignant.
“As a teacher I think Jake was incredibly generous with his time,” said UCD professor Brian Barker. “His office was always full of students asking about writing, getting advice about grad schools, working on the next issue of Copper Nickel.”
York read countless drafts of his students’ work, invited his Copper Nickel staff over for chili dinners, and worried that his high expectations and dedication to literary craft gave some the impression that he was an overly serious or tough professor.
“He knew everything—physics, math, beer, whiskey, food, literature, history, music. But this was also a man who put his arm around me and took me to the counseling center when I was going through a family crisis, who read six drafts of a story he had no obligation to read, who took me and four other girls out at AWP [American Writers and Poets conference] and picked up the tab, who believed in me and his students with such conviction, who never hesitated, no matter the favor,” said Nini Berndt, a former student and mentee of York. “He was, and always will be, the most intelligent man I have ever known. But it is his generosity and genuine caring that I will carry with me most.”
York seemed to approach everything with the same intense dedication and passion.
“…With the help of our English department colleagues and the support of the university, he pretty much built the creative writing program from the ground up,” said Davis. “He was a fierce advocate for his students, for his friends, for writers, for literature, for the voiceless, for a more just world.”
In her blog, Ali Pearl, a former student and Copper Nickel editor who worked closely with York, spoke of his great impact: “No one has been more of a mentor. No one ever could be. I grew up with and through Jake’s guidance. I owe him everything I have now. He was my inspiration when I was 17 years old. He will be my inspiration for the rest of my life.”
A memorial will be held for York at St. Catejan’s on campus Wednesday Jan. 30 from 3–5 pm.