Pulitzer-winning poet and alumnus Komunyakaa visits CSU Thursday

CSU alumnus and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa will be on campus Thursday, April 21, to accept an Honor Alumnus Award from the College of Liberal Arts and give a public reading.

Photo by Tom Wallace
Photo by Tom Wallace

Komunyakaa, who graduated with a master of arts degree in poetry from CSU in 1978, won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1994, and until last year was the only African American to receive that honor. He is one of the most respected names in American letters, publishing scores of collections of poetry, essays, and librettos, and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Komunyakaa’s free poetry reading will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Lory Student Center’s North Ballroom.

Komunyakaa grew up in the small town of Bogalusa, Louisiana, before and during the Civil Rights era. He served a tour of duty with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, when he acted as a journalist for the military paper, covering major actions, interviewing fellow soldiers and publishing articles on Vietnamese history and literature. Upon his return to the U.S. he turned to poetry, eventually becoming one of the most popular and important American writers of his generation.

Studied with Tremblay

CSU Professor Emeritus Bill Tremblay of the Department of English has known Yusef since he was a student at CSU. In nominating Yusef for the Honor Alumnus Award last year, Tremblay wrote: “Early on, Yusef was able to make his poetry out of a fusion between music and magic so that it would be a continuous revelation of the powers that spring from human desires and dreams. The intelligence of his poems reaches back into his formative years when as a child he played beneath the floorboards of his front porch and listened intently so that — as he says in one of his poems about his youth, ‘I knows things I ain’t suppose to know’ — about the mysterious power of the adult world. The speakers of his poems are witnesses to the mystery and power of the spirit world — a world of hoodoo and juju — that is alive and working overtime to generate his extraordinary vision.”

Yusef Komunyakaa’s books of poetry include Taboo, Dien Cai Dau, Neon Vernacular (for which he received the Pulitzer Prize), The Chameleon Couch and The Emperor of Water Clocks (FSG). He has been the recipient of numerous awards including the William Faulkner Prize (Université Rennes, France), the Kingsley Tufts Award for Poetry, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award and the 2011 Wallace Stevens Award. His plays, performance art and libretti have been performed internationally, and include SlipknotWakonda’s DreamNine Bridges BackSaturnalia, TestimonyThe Mercy Suite and Gilgamesh (a verse play) with Chad Gracia. He is Global Distinguished Professor of English at New York University.

More information about Komunyakaa is available at the Poetry Foundation’s website.