February 28, 2005
4:15 p.m. Informal Seminar
8:00 p.m. Reading
Assembly Hall, CC
UAlbany, Uptown Campus
Kevin Young is a poet who finds meaning and inspiration in African American music, particularly blues music, and in the bittersweet history of Black America. Born in 1970, he is widely regarded as one of the leading poets of his generation.
"gift of storytelling and understanding of the music inherent in the oral tradition of language…" - Eminent poet Lucille Clifton
Young's newest book is "Black Maria: Poems Produced and Directed by Kevin Young" (2005). The collection is a "film noir in verse," a playful homage to the language and imagery of Hollywood detective films. The title, "Black Maria," is vintage street slang for both "police van" and "hearse," as well as the name of Thomas Edison's first film studio. The poems follow the adventures of two characters, the private eye A. K. A. Jones, and the femme fatale Delilah Redbone, through "a maze of aliases and ambushes, sex and suspicions, fast talk and hard luck…"
While still in his early twenties, Young was a 1993 National Poetry Series winner for "Most Way Home" (1995), a volume of meditations on racism, slavery, poverty, and the meaning of "home" in the collective memory of African Americans."Most Way Home" also received the John C. Zacharis First Book Award of "Ploughshares" magazine.
"First books rarely sing with such controlled music…. [Young] has a distinctive and unforgettable voice, virtuosic style, and mature command of his material…. A marvelous book, a marvelous poet." - "Booklist"
Other collections include "To Repel Ghosts: Five Sides in B Minor" (2001), a poetic tribute to painter and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and a finalist for the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets; and "Jelly Roll: A Blues" (2003), a finalist for both the National Book Award and the "Los Angeles Times" Book Award.
"Tender, sassy, and just plain cool, the poems… uniquely twine together the roots of both music and language." - Billy Collins, in praise of "Jelly Roll"
Young is also the editor of "Blues Poems" (2003), a volume in the Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series, and "Giant Steps: The New African American Writers" (2000). "Blues Poems" features lyrics written by blues musicians, including Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters, as well as blues-inspired poets, including Langston Hughes, W. H. Auden, Waring Cuney, Cornelius Eady, and Yusef Komunyakaa. "Giant Steps" is a collection of poems, essays, and fiction by 35 black writers, the oldest of whom was born in 1960, the year that John Coltrane's album, "Giant Steps," was released.
"Young's focus on the influence of music on African American literature serves to connect the diverse voices he so energetically presents." - "Booklist"
Young's poetry and essays have appeared in the "New Yorker," "New York Times Book Review," "Paris Review," "Kenyon Review," and "Callaloo." His awards include a Stegner Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford University, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship. He is currently Ruth Lilly Professor of Poetry at Indiana University.