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Kevin Young

Award-winning poet, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and poetry editor at The New Yorker

  • About Kevin Young

    Kevin Young is the author of eleven books of poetry and prose and is one of the most celebrated poets today. Covering a wide range of topics both personal and political, Young’s poetry is evocative, musical, and “compulsively readable” (the New York Times). In his equally affecting lectures and readings, Young enchants audiences with his sincerity, humor, and poignant ruminations on writing and life.

    In 2016, Young was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and assumed the directorship of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Young was named poetry editor at The New Yorker in March, 2o17.

    Young’s most recent poetry collections include Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995-2015, which was longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award in Poetry, and Book of Hours, a searing mediation on the loss of his father and birth of his son, which won the Lenore Marshall Prize for Poetry from the Academy of American Poets and has been selected as an NEA Big Read title. Among Young’s other work are the poetry collections Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, Dear Darkness, and Jelly Roll: A Blues, which was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry.

    In 2012, Young published The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, a nonfiction book of literary and cultural criticism. The book won the PEN Open Book Award, was a New York Times Notable Book, and was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award. Young is also the editor of several collections of others’ poems, including The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, The Best American Poetry 2011, and the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets volumes Blues Poems and Jazz Poems.

  • Speaking Topics

    Art Inspiring Art

    Whether writing an elegy infused with the blues or composing an homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kevin Young is inspired by great art. In this compelling lecture, Young reveals some of his principle muses and outlines his journey from observing the art of others to crafting his own, encouraging audiences to find their own inspirations and foster a creative spirit.

    Poetry in the Modern Landscape

    What does poetry mean today, and why should we read it? As “one of the most talented poets in the United States” (San Francisco Chronicle), Kevin Young reflects on the nature of contemporary poetry and the future of the genre as a whole. Young explores the power of poetry as both a personal and political outlet, and the importance of living with lyricism both in and out of the classroom.

    The Grey Album

    In many of his poems and in his criticism, Young considers the relationship between African-American art, culture, and history and the narratives currently presented in textbooks and media. In this important lecture, Young addresses how African-American artists and storytellers through the years have reshaped and rewritten their personal and social histories, and how these counter-stories have begun to permeate mainstream American culture.

    Poems of Praise

    In this talk, Young focuses on celebrating the everyday and the extraordinary. Drawing on the poetry of poets like Pablo Neruda and Lucille Clifton, Young explores how odes to ordinary things—from people to places, food to loss—help us to make meaning and find our own voices. The result is less a workshop or a lecture than, in Young’s words, a “lab for living.”

  • Video

  • Praise for Kevin Young

    Praise for The Grey Album

    Equal parts blues shout, church sermon, interpretive dance, TED talk, lit-crit manifesto and mixtape, the poet Kevin Young's first nonfiction book, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, is an ambitious blast of fact and feeling, a nervy piece of performance art. The book, which takes its title from Danger Mouse's mash-up of the Beatles' 'The White Album' and Jay-Z's 'Black Album,' is its own kind of collage. It rummages around in the work of African-American writers and musicians—from Bessie Smith and Langston Hughes to Lauryn Hill and Colson Whitehead—and makes a series of sly arguments for black art's centrality in American culture writ large….This book is the work of a man who, correctly, calls himself a 'poet and a collector and now a curator,' one devoted to saving 'what we didn't even know needed saving.

    The New York Times

    Dense and brilliant . . . [Kevin Young's] book walks that fine line between improvisatory elan and academic precision with an enviable sureness. The Grey Album is a work of syncretic cultural criticism, a mosaic of ideas, quotations, analyses, lyrics, and allusions, diffuse yet cumulatively masterful.

    The Washington Post

    Kevin Young is one of the most talented poets in the United States. With this new book, he should also become known as a major critic. The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness is not only one of the most learned historical surveys of African American (and American) culture, but also a supremely stylish tribute to generations of creative African Americans.

    San Francisco Chronicle

    Praise for Book of Hours: Poems

    What could be better, or harder, than death and birth in one book? Young is our prolific chronicler of the state of the African-American union, but also of fatherhood, of son-hood. These poems counter the grief of the father's death with the bewildering joy of a child's birth.


    Young's tone is always pitch-perfect in these poems.

    The Los Angeles Times

    Praise for Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015

    Read as a whole, [Blue Laws] tells a story about how history has been written on African-American bodies, and imagines the voices that have spoken back... Young is a relaxed lyricist, precise without being precious, and he expresses enormous feeling with great economy. He's a natural storyteller.

    Harper's Magazine

    Cinema, visual art, the blues, food and drink, loss and grief, the story of the Amistad rebels — there is virtually no aesthetic, emotional, or intellectual world untouched by Kevin Young’s poetry…. [Blue Laws] is one of the most important books of the year in any category.

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