Kevin Young

1970- , Lincoln , NE , United States
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Kevin Young was born 1970 in Lincoln, Nebraska. He received his BA from Harvard University in 1992, where he studied poetry with Lucie Brock-Broido and Seamus Heaney, and his MFA in creative writing from Brown University in 1996.

His poetry collections include Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015 (Knopf, 2016); Book of Hours (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), winner of the 2015 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, given for the most outstanding book of poetry published in the United States each year; Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011); Dear Darkness: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008); For the Confederate Dead (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007); Black Maria (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005); Jelly Roll: A Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003); To Repel Ghosts (Zoland Books, 2001), which was a finalist for the James Laughlin Award; and Most Way Home (Steerforth, 1995), selected for the National Poetry Series and winner of the Zacharis First Books Award from Ploughshares.

About Book of Hours, judge A. Van Jordan wrote:

"As if walking through a gallery of grief, reverie, and transcendence, 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. Kevin Young is a master poet who has offered us a transformative curation of life, death and the ways in which we deal with it all in Book of Hours."

Young has edited several anthologies, including The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing (Bloomsbury, 2010), Blues Poems (Everyman's Library, 2003), and Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers (2000), as well as a selected volume of poems by John Berryman for the Library of America. He is also the author of The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Graywolf Press, 2012), winner of the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize and the PEN Open Award.

About Young's work, the poet Lucille Clifton said, "This poet's gift of storytelling and understanding of the music inherent in the oral tradition of language re-creates for us an inner history which is compelling and authentic and American."

Young's awards and honors include a Stegner Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford University, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. He has taught at the University of Georgia, Indiana University, and Emory University, where he was the Charles Howard Candler professor of creative writing and English and curator of literary collections at the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library. In 2016, he was named the director of the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He lives in Atlanta.

Selected Bibliography

Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015 (Knopf, 2016)
Book of Hours (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)
Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)
Dear Darkness: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)
For the Confederate Dead (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
Black Maria (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)
Jelly Roll: A Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)
To Repel Ghosts (Zoland Books, 2001)
Most Way Home (Steerforth, 1995)

The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Graywolf Press, 2012)

by this poet

Waking early
with the warming house
my grandmother knew what to do
taking care not to wake
Da Da 		she cooked up a storm
in darkness 	adding silent spices
and hot sauce

to stay cool. She ate later, alone
after the children had been gathered
and made to eat
her red eggs. Da Da rose
late, long after
the roosters

Lady, won’t you wait
out the hurricane

all night at my place—
we’ll take cover like

the lamps & I’ll
let you oil

my scalp. Please, I needs
a good woman’s hands

caught in my hair, turning
my knots to butter.

All night we’ll churn.

will lean

To allow silence
To admit it in us

always moving
Just past

senses, the darkness
What swallows us

and we live amongst
What lives amongst us


These grim anchors
That brief sanctity

the sea
Cast quite far

when you seek
—in your hats black

and kerchiefs—
to bury me


Do not weep
but once, and a long