Alabama native, acclaimed poet killed in NC traffic incident


By Tribune Media Services
By Donna Thornton, The Gadsden Times

Attalla, Alabama native Gerald William Barrax, an acclaimed poet and retired emeritus professor of creative writing at North Carolina State University, died Dec. 7 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Barrax, 86, was struck by a vehicle while crossing a street, and died from his injuries.

He taught for 27 years at North Carolina State and did a majority of his writing there. But as all stories about him note, he was born in Attalla, in 1933, and lived there until 1944, when his family moved to Pittsburgh. His poems appeared in literary journals such as the Georgia Review, the Southern Review and Poetry, according to a story by Brent Winter for North Carolina State University News. His work has been included in more than three dozen anthologies. He wrote six books of poetry. Leaning Against the Sun, published in 1992, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Barrax was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, and received the North Carolina Award for Literature. The N.C. State News story details Barrax’s life — that his first interest in poetry was sparked when he was a high school senior, after a girl wrote a poem for him while he was hospitalized after a tonsillectomy. He wrote one back. Later when he worked at a steel mill to earn money for college, an ex-convict co-worker introduced him to a book of love poems by Walter Benton.

Barrax enlisted in the U.S. Air Force to get G.I. Bill funding for college, and he educated himself in writing. He found Clement Wood’s “Poets’ Handbook” at a used bookstore and studied the fundamentals of writing poetry. The major subjects of Barrax’s work, according to biographical information about him, were family relationships, death, and the black experience in contemporary America. “Another Kind of Rain: Poems,” University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970. “An Audience of One: Poems,” University of Georgia Press, 1980. “The Deaths of Animals and Lesser Gods,” University of Kentucky Press, 1984. “Leaning Against the Sun: Poems,” University of Arkansas Press, 1992. “From a Person Sitting in Darkness: New and Selected Poems,” Louisiana State Press, 1998.