December 5, 2012

After Death, Cornell English Professors Say Young-Bryant Ph.D. ’11 Was ‘Brilliant Scholar’

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Cornell professors said that Alan Young-Bryant M.A. ’07 Ph.D. ’11, who was found dead in a gorge Wednesday, was a “brilliant” scholar with an erudite mastery of the 19th century poems he studied.

Young-Bryant, 32, was found Wednesday morning in Cascadilla Gorge. Police continue to investigate his death, which they said they think was caused by an accidental fall.

Prof. Jonathan Culler, English, comparative literature, said in an email that Young-Bryant’s thesis, an exposition of Victorian poetry and its formal devices, was “remarkable.”

Young-Bryant, who earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in English language and literature, studied the works of poets Algernon Charles Swinburne, D.G. Rossetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins for his dissertation.

The man was also “a very accomplished teacher whose assignment sequences won a prize from the Knight Writing Program,” said Culler, who was Young-Bryant’s thesis adviser.

Through his time working with Young-Bryant, Culler said he grew to know him as “a man devoted to serious reading and thinking and conversation, serious and amused, with friends and colleagues.”

“He will be greatly missed,” Culler said. “At the time of this unfathomable tragedy, I can only offer my deepest sympathy to his partner, Alexis Briley, and to Alan’s family.”

Young-Bryant, who worked in Los Angeles after graduating from Cornell, had been back in Ithaca to visit Briley, according to Culler. The couple was last together at the Chapter House Tuesday night to celebrate Briley successfully defending her Ph.D. thesis and completing her exams.

To Prof. Debra Fried, English, Young-Bryant was astute, yet “at the same time, such a gentle, understated guy.”

“I watched him lead students through poems with such a lightly guiding hand as brought them to such wonderful, complex insights, and made it all seem as though the students had arrived there all on their own,” Fried, who also worked with Young-Bryant on his thesis, said in an email.

Young-Bryant’s ability to teach without dictating showed a “rare mastery,” Fried said.

“I simply cannot take on board the idea that Alan won’t get the chance for a long, rich life as a teacher and scholar,” she said.

Reflecting on Young-Bryant’s unexpected death, Fried said she feels “the kind of human shock the best poetry is supposed to help us to comprehend — not least the beautiful, deeply inquiring late-19th century poems that Alan wrote about as a scholar.”

“Nothing, it seems, can really ever prepare one when a vital, young flame like Alan’s is suddenly snuffed out,” she said. “I’ll miss him very much.”

Original Author: Akane Otani