Black History 365, National Poetry Month edition: Yusef Komunyakaa

Since there are so many facets of the history that people of African descent have made in this country, I’ve decided to continue my “Black History 365″ series from my poetry blog here on my AfrocentriqueAZ blog. In honor of National Poetry Month, I’ll be posting a new Black poet every day this month. Every Wednesday for the months after that I will post other Black history figures (I’ll go back to my “first Black” series). 

Today’s poet is Yusef Komunyakaa (video at the end of the post)

Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa

 

From Famous Poets and Poems and Wikipedia:

Yusef Komunyakaa (born April 29, 1947) is an American poet who teaches at New York University and is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Komunyakaa is a recipient of the 1994 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, for Neon Vernacular and the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He also received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Komunyakaa received the 2007 Louisiana Writer Award for his enduring contribution to the poetry world.

His subject matter ranges from the black general experience through rural Southern life before the Civil Rights time period and his experience as a soldier during the Vietnam War.

Komunyakaa was born in 1947 and given the name James William Brown, the eldest of five children of James William Brown, a carpenter. He later reclaimed the name Komunyakaa that his grandfather, a stowaway in a ship from Trinidad, had lost. He grew up in the small town of Bogalusa, Louisiana, before and during the Civil Rights era. He served in the US Army from 1968–1971, serving one tour of duty in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War (1969–1970). He worked as a specialist for the military paper, Southern Cross, covering actions and stories, interviewing fellow soldiers, and publishing articles on Vietnamese history, which earned him a Bronze Star.

He began writing poetry in 1973 at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs Campus, where he was an editor for and a contributor to the campus arts and literature publication, riverrun. He earned his M.A. on Writing from Colorado State University in 1978, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California, Irvine, in 1980.

Komunyakaa married Australian novelist Mandy Sayer in 1985, and in the same year, became an associate professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. He also held the Ruth Lilly Professorship for two years in 1989-1990. He and Sayer were married for ten years. He was the partner of poet Reetika Vazirani, who took her life and that of their child, in 2003.

He taught at Indiana University until the fall of 1997, when he became an English professor at Princeton University. Yusef Komunyakaa is currently a professor in the Creative Writing Program at New York University.

 

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