Yusef Komunyakaa has been named the 11th State Poet of New York by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The author of more than a dozen books of poetry, Komunyakaa received both the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for “Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems.” In 2001 he was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for extraordinary lifetime accomplishments, and in 2011 he received the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets.
Komunyakaa has taught at many universities, including the University of New Orleans, Indiana University, and Princeton University.
Born and raised in Bogalusa, Louisiana, he served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and earned a Bronze Star for his work as editor and correspondent for the military newspaper Southern Cross. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado in 1975, a master’s degree from Colorado State University in 1978, and a master’s of fine arts in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine in 1980.
His books “Thieves of Paradise” and “Talking Dirty to the Gods” both were finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His 2011 collection, “The Chameleon Couch,” was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was shortlisted for the 2012 International Griffin Poetry Prize.
Komunyakaa is a distinguished 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. Komunyakaa owns a house in Trenton and splits his time between Trenton and New York City, where he is the distinguished senior poet in the creative writing program at New York University.
The State Poet is selected for two-year terms by the New York State Writers Institute, which is located at the State University of New York at Albany. The choice is based on a substantial body of work of notable literary merit. The institute was established as a permanent state-sponsored organization for creative exchange through legislation in 1984.
Komunyakaa said he is honored to serve as the New York State poet.
“I embrace this historical support of artists and I shall endeavor to cultivate this atmosphere where poetry and the lives of working people intersect,” he said.
Throughout the two-year term, the state poet laureate promotes and encourages poetry throughout New York by giving public readings and talks within the state. The award carries an honorarium of ten thousand dollars.
“Seldom, if ever, have I found an American poet with such an amazing trajectory of talent and sense of subject regarding culture and morality: from Viet Nam to jazz, from Black experience to surreal lyricism. Yusef Komunyakaa is surely among our very best,” said Donald Faulkner, director of the New York State Writers Institute.
Other New York State Poets and their terms of service:
· Marie Howe, 2012-2014
· Jean Valentine, 2008-2010
· Billy Collins, 2004-2006
· John Ashbery, 2001-2003
· Sharon Olds, 1998-2000
· Jane Cooper, 1995-1997
· Richard Howard, 1993-1995
· Audre Lorde, 1991-1993
· Robert Creeley, 1989-1991
· Stanley Kunitz, 1986-1988