Former UGA and Emory University professor Kevin Young is regarded as one of the leading poets of his generation. A respected editor, curator and cultural critic as well, Young directs New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and he is the poetry editor for The New Yorker magazine.
Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the only child of Louisiana-born parents, Kevin Lowell Young grew up mostly in Topeka, Kansas, where his father, the late Dr. Paul E. Young, was an ophthalmologist and his mother, Dr. Azzie Young, a chemist, was a Kansas state public health executive. Valedictorian of his high school class in 1988, Young went to Harvard College, where he accumulated poetry awards and recognition, and– in the words of the Harvard Crimson newspaper -- his name became “ virtually a metaphor for literary achievement” by the time of his graduation in in 1992 (AB, English and American Literature).1
Young completed most of his first book of poetry in college, and it was published when he was twenty-four. Most Way Home (1995) won Ploughshares magazine’s Zacharias First Book Prize and was a featured selection of the National Poetry Series. New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s career inspired Young to explore the artist’s world in his book-length poem To Repel Ghosts (2002), which he revamped for a "remix" edition in 2005. Young’s blues-inspired book of verse Jelly Roll (2003) and his elegiac explorations of race and American history in For the Confederate Dead (2007) both won the Paterson Poetry Prize, and the latter also won a Quill Award for Poetry. Young’s Black Maria (2005), described as “a film noir in verse,”2 was performed onstage in 2007 by the Providence Black Repertory Company. In Dear Darkness (2008) Young’s poetry grew out of the recent, sudden death of his father in a hunting accident. He returned to a full-length form in Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels (2011), which won an American Book Award in poetry.
In the 2014 collection Book of Hours Young revisited his grief over the loss of his father, but this time he weighed that sorrow against the joy of his own son’s birth four months afterward. The resulting poetic achievement was honored with the Academy of American Poets’ Lenore Marshall Prize, about which the judges’ citation stated:
Kevin Young's Book of Hours exemplifies what poetry can do in the world when language works at its full power. The poems in this collection hold emotion taut on each line while allowing for the nimbleness of language to drape over them, bringing tension between the heart and the mind, as Young consistently surprises us with profound elegance.3
In 2016 Young once again appeared on numerous “best books” lists with Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995–2015. Among the recognitions it received, Blue Laws was named one of "Books All Georgians Should Read" by the Georgia Center for the Book.
In addition to his poetry Young has authored two volumes of nonfiction writing. Bunk (2017) explores the history of the hoax as an American phenomenon. An earlier compilation of essays, lyrics and cultural criticism, The Grey Album (2012), won a PEN Open Book Award for its exploration of African American identity.
Young is also the editor of various anthologies and poetry collections. These include volumes of the work of Lucille Clifton and John Berryman, music-poetry anthologies of jazz and blues verse anthologies of poetry about “food & drink” and about “grief & healing, and compilations drawn from the work of a new generation of African American writers.
Young’s writing has been featured on National Public Radio and in publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Callaloo, as well as in anthologies such as Scribner's annual series of Best American Poetry volumes.
After Young earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Brown University, he worked as an assistant professor at the University of Georgia until 2001, when he became a professor of poetry at Indiana University-Bloomington. In 2005 Young became a chaired professor in English and creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta, where he remained until 2016. During his tenure at Emory, he also served as curator of Emory Libraries’ extensive poetry collection, and in 2008 his duties expanded to comprise the libraries’ literary collections of books and manuscripts.
Young's academic honors include a Stegner Fellowship in poetry at Stanford University, Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship. Awarded an honorary doctorate from Beloit College in 2014, he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016.
1Kelly A.E. Mason, “A Poet Who Is Wary of the 'Burden of Representation,'” http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1992/6/4/a-poet-who-is-wary-of/
2Kevin Young, “Black Maria,” http://kevinyoungpoetry.com/black-maria.html.
3“Poet Kevin Young,” https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/kevin-young
Photograph of Kevin Young by Melanie Dunea.
The following editions of works by Kevin Young are held by UGA’s Hargrett Library:
Most Way Home. New York: William Morrow, 1995.
“Southern University, 1962.” Broadside. (With Rory Golden) Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1998.
To Repel Ghosts : Five Sides in B Minor. Cambridge, Mass.: Zoland, 2001.
Jelly Roll: A Blues. New York: Knopf, 2003.
Black Maria : Being the Adventures of Delilah Redbone & A.K.A. Jones. New York: Knopf, 2005.
To Repel Ghosts : Remixed from the Original Masters. New York: Knopf, 2005.
For the Confederate Dead. New York: Knopf, 2007.
Dear Darkness. New York: Knopf, 2008.
Breviary. Winona, MN: Sutton Hoo Press, 2009.
Ardency : A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels : Being an Epic Account of the Capture of the Spanish Schooner Amistad by the Africans on Board ... New York: Knopf, 2011.
The Grey Album : On the Blackness of Blackness. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf, 2012.
Book of Hours. New York: Knopf, 2014.
Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015. New York: Knopf, 2016.
Bunk: the Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-facts, and Fake News. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf, 2017.
Brown: Poems. New York: Knopf, 2018.