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NEW YORK STATE WALT WHITMAN CITATION OF MERIT STATE POET AWARD WINNER 2016-2018 New York State Author and Poets Awards and Reading, February 11, 2016 p.m. A resident of New York City since 2000, Komunyakaa is a faculty member and Honorary Director of Cave Canem, a foundation headquartered in Brooklyn that is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.— Page Hall, 135 Western, Avenue, Downtown Campus (1993), for which he received both the Pulitzer Prize and the ,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His first book of poems, , (“crazy in the head” in Vietnamese), contains the widely-anthologized poem “Facing It,” about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D. The collection has been cited by poets such as William Matthews, Marilyn Hacker, and Robert Hass as among the best writing on the Vietnam War.
It was also a place of stark segregation and racial violence.
In “Dark Waters,” he describes how the disparity between the white marble monuments dedicated to southern generals and the makeshift graves of African-Americans near the festering town dump “was analogous to the town’s psyche.” Writing for the in 2009, he said of his childhood, “It was impossible not to have known and lived within the social and political dimensions of skin color.” However, for him Bogalusa was also a place of stunning natural beauty where “yellow flowers/go on forever” and “slate-blue catfish” swimming under a pond’s surface cause swamp orchids to “quiver under green hats.” He grew up surrounded by the rich musical and storytelling tradition of the Deep South.
Komunyakaa’s father was illiterate, but the poet claims the precision and patience with which his father would measure and cut a wood board influenced his own writing process.
It was his mother—who once brought home a set of encyclopedias—who encouraged her son to read.
In 1999, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Yusef Komunyakaa is a senior faculty member in the NYU Creative Writing Program.
He was born in Bogalusa in 1947, the first of five children born to James Willie Sr., a carpenter, and Mildred Brown.
He was named after his father, but later took the name Komunyakaa as a tribute to his grandfather, a stowaway from the West Indies.
After graduating from high school in 1965, he enlisted in the Army and served in Vietnam as an information specialist.
In addition to covering major combat operations, he wrote a column for the Army newspaper on Vietnamese literature and culture.