Bio Sketches  Yusef Komunyakaa

Bio Sketches  Yusef Komunyakaa


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Bio Sketches of Yusef Komunyakaa



Books by Yusef Komunyakaa

I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head / Dien Cai Dau / Magic City / Neon Vernacular / Toys in a Field

Thieves of Paradise / Talking Dirty to the Gods  /  Pleasure Dome Jazz Poetry Anthology  /  The Second Set  /  Taboo: The Wishbone Trilogy

Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews, and Commentaries

*   *   *   *   *

Yusef Komunyakaa–born 1947 and raised in Bogalusa, Louisiana–served in Vietnam as an information specialist, saw combat, and received the Bronze Star. A graduate of the University of Colorado, he also received master’s degrees from the University of California, Irvine, and Colorado State University. After teaching at the University of New Orleans, Komunyakaa was a professor at Indiana University for over ten years, and, in the fall of 1997, he began teaching at Princeton University.

Yusef Komunyakaa is professor in the Council of Humanities and Creative Writing at Princeton University. Wesleyan has published six of his ten books, including the Pulitzer prize-winning Neo Vernacular (1993), which also won the Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award from the Claremont Graduate School, Magic City (1992), and Dien Cai Dau (1988).

In 1991, he won the Thomas Forcade award, in 1993 was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, in 1994 received the William Faulkner Prize from the University of Rennes in France, and in 1997 he was awarded the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine and the Hanes Poetry Prize. His new book from Wesleyan is Thieves of Paradise.

Pulitzer prize-winning poet (1994) Yusef Komunyakaa is a unique figure in American poetry and the author of eleven poetry volumes. Komunyakaa’s poetry is celebrated for its short lines, its simple vernacular, its jazzy feel, and its rootedness in the poet’s experience as a black of the American South, and as a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War.

Komunyakaa’s most recent collection is Talking Dirty to the Gods (2000), and his earlier collections include Thieves of Paradise (1998), University Press of New England), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Neon Vernacular (1993), which received the Pulitzer Prize, Magic City (1992) and Dien Cai Dau (1988).

In 1999, Yusef Komunyakaa was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, In addition to his many publications and poetry collections, he is co-editor (with Sascha Feinstein) of two volumes of “The Jazz Poetry Anthology” from Indiana University Press. Komunyakaa was a visiting writer at the Writers Institute on March 8, 2001.

Yusef Komunyakaa’s poems have aptly been described as “razor-sharp pieces that tell us more about our culture than any news broadcast,” Toi Derrcote, focusing on the poet’s aesthetic, has written that “Komunyakaa’s poetry is about art, about how it alters reality, how it changes the past, and how it is both a desperate and a redemptive act” and Komunyakaa has claimed that “language is what can liberate or imprison the human psyche” and that “we are responsible for our lives and the words we use.”

*  *  *   *  *  *

“In the pantheon of poetic stereotypes–the vitriolic, passionate drunkard is one; the wry, acerbic loner another–Mr. Komunyakaa . . . is more the dreamy intellectual, a Worthsworthian type whose worldly, philosophic mind might be stirred by something as homely and personal as a walk in a field of daffodils.”—Bruce Weber in The New York Times


‘ . . . a remarkable set of 132 four-quatrain poems that erase distinctions between nature, humanity and the divine . . . Life in its spectacular variations inspires quirky ruminations on such earthly creatures as slime molds and hyenas, and such mythological beings as the centaur and Janus, the two-faced god.” Kirkus Reviews said that “Here Komunyakaa comes across as a poet of both the small and the grand, a visionary who considers Eros and maggots with equal insight.”—Booklist on Talking Dirty to the Gods


“Yusef Komunyakaa is a poet of the human heart in all its joys and horrors, fiercely present as it pounds away at the center of every human being’s consciousness. He enlarges our idea of what poetry is, challenging us to go beyond our own narrow definitions.”—The Washington Post Book World on Thieves of Paradise


Source: of Reviews: and Kenyon Review, Summer/Fall 1998, Vol. 20 Issue 3/4, p. 5, 16p.


*   *   *   *   *


Conversations with Yusef Komunyakaa

Edited by Shirley A. James Hanshaw

Conversations with Yusef Komunyakaa brings together over two decades of interviews and profiles with one of America’s most prolific and acclaimed contemporary poets. Yusef Komunyakaa (b. 1947) describes his work alternately as “word paintings” and as “music,” and his affinity with the visual and aural arts is amply displayed in these conversations. The volume also addresses the diversity and magnitude of Komunyakaa’s literary output. His collaborations with artists in a variety of genres, including music, dance, drama, opera, and painting have produced groundbreaking performance pieces. Throughout the collection, Komunyakaa’s interest in finding and creating poetry across the artistic spectrum is made manifest.

For his collection Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems, 1977-1989, Komunyakaa became the first African American male to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Through his work he provides keen insight into life’s mysteries from seemingly inconsequential and insignificant life forms (“Ode to the Maggot”) to some of the most compelling historical and life-altering events of our time, such as the Vietnam War (“Facing It”). Influenced strongly by jazz, blues, and folklore, as well as the classical poetic tradition, his poetry comprises a riveting chronicle of the African American experience.

updated 9 October 2007

*   *   *   *   *

Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

By  Frank B. Wilderson III

Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson’s stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who’ve accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela’s rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela’s regime deems Wilderson’s public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America. Wilderson has a distinct, powerful voice and a strong story that shuffles between the indignities of Johannesburg life and his early years in Minneapolis, the precocious child of academics who barely tolerate his emerging political consciousness. Wilderson’s observations about love within and across the color line and cultural divides are as provocative as his politics; despite some distracting digressions, this is a riveting memoir of apartheid’s last days.—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *







updated 3 April 2010




Home  Yusef Table  Literature and Arts   Yusef Speaks 2   Yusef Speak 3

Related files:     Rudy Interviews Yusef   Other Yusef Poems  Talking Dirty/Blue Notes Review  Pleasure Dome/Talking Dirty

Post Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.