Stuart Dybek

b. 1942
Stuart Dybek
Poet and fiction writer Stuart Dybek was born in 1942 and raised on the South Side of Chicago. He attended Loyola University in Chicago and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His collections of poetry include Brass Knuckles (1979) and Streets in Their Own Ink (2004). His works of fiction, including the short story collections Childhood and Other Neighborhoods (1980) and The Coast of Chicago (1990), and the novel-in-stories I Sailed with Magellan (2003), have prompted critics to rank him with such American literary giants as Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson. Dybek’s work is firmly located in the city of his birth; both his stories and poems unfold in the working-class Slavic and Mexican neighborhoods of Chicago, areas bounded by the freeways, cement rivers, and rail lines of the “city of big shoulders.” Dybek’s poems and fiction both feature a kind of shifting realism, one in which dreams and the imagination are just as present as gritty details of urban life. Dybek’s work “move[s] easily between the gritty reality of urban decay,’ noted John Breslin in the Washington Post, “and a magical realm of lyricism and transcendence linked to music, art and religion.”
 
Virginia Konchan, in Jacket, described Dybek’s poetry as “the work of a master prose stylist… Bluntly put, Dybek’s poems are less interested in remaining open to multiple interpretations as they are to capturing—I might even say nailing—moments of spiritual evisceration.” His two collections of poetry have been praised for their careful imagery, cool observation, and social witness. Reviewing Streets in Their Own Ink, Konchan noted that, “throughout Dybek’s second poetry collection, he brings to bear a poet’s sensitivity to the power of image, with the imaginative sympathies of a writer of fiction. The poems can be read, and in indeed offer themselves up to be read, as clean, spare dialogues with the ghosts of history and memory.”
 
Dybek’s fiction—including his highly praised debut, Childhood and Other Neighborhoods—is also populated by “the ghosts of history and memory,” a topic Dybek addressed in an interview with Robert Birnbaum. Dybek said: “For me, memory and recollection can just as well be a non-ordinary experience. Memory is so subjective, to start out with. You can inhabit the world of memory in a way that someone can inhabit the world of dreams or the world of hashish visions, mental illness, religious experience, all those kinds of ecstatic, semi-ecstatic states, and that still fascinates me. And by the way, I am not saying that linearity can’t express those states. Of course it can. So the form of a piece, whether it’s a painting or a piece of writing or piece of music, that kind of essential philosophical bias that the artist has is going to express itself in form, whether it’s fragmentation or experiments with time. They are going to reflect a philosophical point of view, one you might not exactly know you have. That is, you haven’t worked it in its entirety.”
 
The recipient of numerous honors and awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation, Dybek has also received a PEN/Malamud Prize, a Lannan Award, a Whiting Writers Award, and several O.Henry Prizes. His fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared widely in journals such as Harper’s, Poetry, Tin House, the Atlantic, and the New Yorker. He teaches at Western Michigan University and lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


Career

Cook County Department of Public Aid, Cook County, IL, caseworker, 1964-66; St. Martha School, Morton Grove, IL, teacher, 1966-67; Wayne Aspinal School, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, teacher, 1968-70; University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, teaching fellow, 1970-73; Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, assistant professor, 1974-79, professor of English, 1979—; Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program for Writers, faculty, 1985—. Visiting professor, Princeton University, 1990.

Bibliography

POETRY
  • Brass Knuckles, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979.
  • Streets in Their Own Ink, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.
FICTION
  • Childhood and Other Neighborhoods (short stories), Viking (New York, NY), 1980; reissued University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • The Coast of Chicago (short stories), Knopf (New York, NY), 1990; reissued Picador, 2003.
  • I Sailed with Magellan, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.
Contributor to anthologies, including The Ploughshares Reader: New Fiction for the ‘80s and Prize Stories 1985/The O. Henry Awards; contributor to literary journals and periodicals, including Antaeus, Antioch Review, Atlantic Monthly, Chicago Review, New Yorker, North American Review, Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Poetry.

 

Further Reading

PERIODICALS
  • Detroit News Magazine, June 14, 1981.
  • Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1980.
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 20, 1990, pp. 3, 9.
  • New York Times, April 20, 1990.
  • New York Times Book Review, February 24, 1980, pp. 14-15; May 20, 1990, p. 30.
  • Times (London), May 23, 1991, p. 20.
  • Times Literary Supplement, July 26, 1991, p. 19.
  • Tribune Books (Chicago), April 8, 1990, pp. 1, 4.
  • Voice Literary Supplement, April, 1990, p. 6.
  • Washington Post, July 26, 1990.
  • Washington Post Book World, January 13, 1980, pp. 1-2.

Discover this poet’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Articles By STUART DYBEK

Audio & Podcasts

Chicago Poetry Tour Podcast
  • Listen Art Institute of Chicago
    The Art Institute was surrounded by railyards when it was first built, emblematic of Chicago’s roots in industry and the arts. Stuart Dybek, Lisel Mueller, W.S. Di Piero, and others read.
Chicago Poetry Tour Podcast
  • Listen Pilsen
    Pilsen was a diverse neighborhood in Chicago long before anybody used the word “diversity.” Stuart Dybek and Ana Castillo read poems inspired by their childhoods there.
Poem of the Day Poem of the Day Poem of the Day Poem of the Day Poetry Lectures
  • Listen Mary Karr and Stuart Dybek
    Mary Karr and Stuart Dybek read from their own work and discuss how writing poetry relates to writing prose.
The Poetry Magazine Podcast
  • Listen "That discrete first pock"
    Poems by Kathleen Raine, Denise Levertov, W.S. Di Piero, Claudia Emerson, and Stuart Dybek; plus Mary Ruefle on fear and poetry.

Poet Categorization

LIFE SPAN 1942–

Stuart Dybek

Biography

Poet and fiction writer Stuart Dybek was born in 1942 and raised on the South Side of Chicago. He attended Loyola University in Chicago and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His collections of poetry include Brass Knuckles (1979) and Streets in Their Own Ink (2004). His works of fiction, including the short story collections Childhood and Other Neighborhoods (1980) and The Coast of Chicago (1990), and the novel-in-stories I Sailed . . .

Report a problem with this biography

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.