Komunyakaa was born James William Brown, the eldest of 6 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 U.S. 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 an M.A. on Writing from Colorado State University in 1978, and an [[Master of Fine Arts|M.F.A.] in Creative Writing from the University of California, Irvine in 1980.
After receiving his M.F.A., Komunyakaa began teaching poetry in the New Orleans public school system and creative writing at the University of New Orleans.
Komunyakaa has published several collections of poetry, including Taboo: The Wishbone Trilogy, Part I (2004), 'Pleasure Dome: New and collected poems, 1975-1999 (2001), Talking Dirty to the Gods (2000), Thieves of Paradise (1998), Neon Vernacular (1994), and Magic City (1992).
In 2004, Komunyakaa began a collaboration with dramaturge and theater producer Chad Gracia on a dramatic adaptation of The Epic of Gilgamesh. The play was published in October 2006 by Wesleyan University Press. In spring 2008, New York's 92nd Street Y staged a one-night performance by director Robert Scanlon.
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 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.
His first writing fused jazz rhythms and syncopation with hip colloquialism and the unique, arresting poetic imagery which has since become his trademark. It also outlined an abiding desire in his work to articulate cultural truths that remain unspoken in daily discourse, in the hope that they will bring a sort of redemption: "How can love heal/ the mouth shut this way.../ Say something that resuscitates/ us, behind the masks."
He wrote I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head, published in 1986, which won the San Francisco Poetry Prize. More attention came with the publication of Dien Cai Dau (Vietnamese for "crazy in the head"), published in 1988, which focused on his experiences in Vietnam and won the Dark Room Poetry Prize. Included was the poem "Facing It," in which the speaker of the poems visits the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington D.C. Section from "Facing It":
- He's lost his right arm
- inside the stone. In the black mirror
- a woman's trying to erase names
- No, she's brushing a boy's hair."
- - poem "Facing It"
Komunyakaa's work has been influential for a wide swath of current American poets. He views his own work as an indirectness, an "insinuation":
- Poetry is a kind of distilled insinuation. It’s a way of expanding and talking around an idea or a question. Sometimes, more actually gets said through such a technique than a full frontal assault.
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. In 2007, Komunyakaa was awarded both the Robert Creeley Poetry Award, and the 2007 Louisiana Writer Award for his enduring contribution to the poetry world.
- Dedications, and other darkhorses. RMCAJ, 1977.
- Lost in the Bonewheel Factory. Amherst, MA: Lynx House Press, 1979.
- Copacetic. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1984.
- I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1986.
- Toys in a Field. Black River Press, 1986.
- Dien Cai Dau. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988.
- February in Sydney (chapbook). Matchbooks, 1989.
- Magic City. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press / Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1992.
- Neon Vernacular: New and selected poems. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press / Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1993.
- Thieves of Paradise. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press / Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998.
- Talking Dirty to the Gods. New York: Farrar, Straus, 2000.
- Pleasure Dome: New and collected poems. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
- Taboo. New York: Farrar Straus, 2004..
- Gilgamesh. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press 2006..
- Warhorses. New York: Farrar Strauss, 2008..
- The Chameleon Couch. New York: Farrar Strauss, 2011.
- Blue Notes: Essays, interviews, and commentaries (edited by Radiclani Clytus). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2000.
- Nguyen Quang Thieu, The Insomnia of Fire. (translated with aMartha Collins). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.
- The Jazz Poetry Anthology. (edited with Sascha Feinstein). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991.
- The Second Set: The jazz poetry anthology: Volume 2 (edited with Sascha Feinstein). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.
Audio / videoEdit
- Yusef Komunyakaa (cassette). Kansas City, MO: University of Missouri, [1999-?]
- Yusef Komunyakaa / Sharon Olds (CD). New York: Academy of American Poets, 1993.
- A Reading by Yusef Komunyakaa (CD). Cambridge, MA: Dept. of English and American Literature and Language, Harvard University, 2007.
- ↑ http://BlackPast.org Retrieved 28 Mar. 2011
- ↑ Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems excerpts
- ↑ Yusef Komunyakaa: Facing It @ The Internet Poetry Archive
- ↑ What is poetry, from "Notations in Blue: Interview with Radiclani Clytus", in Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews and Commentaries, ed. Radiclani Clytus (Ann Arbor: U Michigan P, 2000)
- ↑ Neon Vernacular excerpts
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "Yusef Komunyakaa," Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Web, Oct. 28, 2012.
- ↑ Ysef Komunyakaa b. 1947, Poetry Foundation, Web, Oct. 28, 2012.
- ↑ Search results = au:Yusef Komunyakaa, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Oct. 16, 2015.
- Two poems in the Paris Review
- Yusef Komunyakaa profile & 15 poems at the Academy of American Poets.
- Yusef Komunyakaa (USA, 1947) at Poetry International (15 poems)
- Yusef Komunyakaa b. 1947 at the Poetry Foundation.
- Yusef Komunyakaa: Online Poems.
- Audio / video
- Yusef Komunyakaa (b. 1947) at The Poetry Archive
- Yusef Komunyakaa: Poems at the Internet Poetry Archive (24 poems).
- Yusef Komunyakaa at YouTube
- Video of Yusef's reading, 3/09/09, at the Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena, CA, as featured on Poetry.LA
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