PERSONAL: Male. Education: Brown University, M.F. A., 1996.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of English, 402 Ballantine Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405-7103. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Poet and educator. University of Georgia, Athens, former assistant professor; Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, currently Ruth Lilly Professor of Poetry. Emory University, Atlanta, GA, visiting lecturer, 2005–06.
AWARDS, HONORS: Stegner fellowship in poetry, Stanford University, 1992–94; MacDowell Colony fellowships, 1993, 1995; National Poetry Series winner, 1995, and John C. Zacharis First Book Award, Ploughshares, 1996, both for Most Way Home; National Book Award for poetry nomination and Los Angeles Times Book Award nomination, both 2003, both for Jelly Roll: A Blues; Patterson Poetry Prize, Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, 2004, for Jelly Roll; National Endowment for the Arts literary fellowship, 2004.
Most Way Home, Morrow (New York, NY), 1995.
To Repel Ghosts: Five Sides in B Minor, Zoland Books (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
Jelly Roll: A Blues, Knopf/Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
Black Maria: Being the Adventures of Delilah Redbone & A.K.A. Jones, Knopf/Random House (New York, NY), 2005.
To Repel Ghosts: The Remix, Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of poetry to numerous periodicals, including New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Callaloo, and DoubleTake.
Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers, HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 2000.
(And selector) Blues Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
John Berryman: Selected Poems, Library of America (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Poet Kevin Young earned significant accolades for his debut collection, 1995's Most Way Home. Divided into several sections, Most Way Home is an examination of what it is—and was—to be an African American, past and present. Young tackles issues of slavery, racism, and poverty; one of the book's central themes is that of "home," a term that Young uses as a metaphor for a collective African American retrospection. Many of the poems have a bittersweet, nostalgic tone, carrying the reader far into the deep South, where the relationship between black and white was often a difficult one.
In the collection's first poem Young writes about an advertisement that offers a reward for those who find and return escaped slaves. Several of the poems are told through the viewpoint of a boy whose father has died, leaving a family that is driven from their home with little hope for the future.
In addition to being honored with awards, Most Way Home also earned critical praise. Patricia Monaghan, reviewing the book in Booklist, called the author and his debut book "marvelous." Monaghan also noted, "First books rarely sing with such controlled music." Labeling Most Way Home a "harsh volume," Library Journal contributor Ellen Kaufman assessed the collection as "a promising first work." F.D. Reeve responded favorably in Poetry to the expression of pain and subject matter in the volume. Reeve declared that, with his book, Young was "proving … how difficult it is for anyone to resolve the conflicts of an age."
Young's next collection of poems, To Repel Ghosts: Five Sides in B Minor, features 117 poems primarily about the painter and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, but also touching upon such artists as rock legend Jimi Hendrix and jazz greats Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, and Charles Mingus. The collection is divided into five "albums," and each poem is a "song." "When on … Young creates … an inspired bricolage of shiny borrowings, canny enjambments and angry popist elegy," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. In a review on the PopMatters Web site, John G. Nettles said that the poet "will spin off into side melodies" like jazz riffs. The critic added, "But Young inevitably returns to Basquiat, the whole thing resembling a marathon bebop session a la Monk or Coltrane." Writing in Art in America, Raphael Rubinstein commented, "This is not only compelling, innovative contemporary poetry, it may be the best interpretive study yet of Basquiat's art."
Young received enormous praise once again for his collection of poems titled Jelly Roll: A Blues. This time, the author's poems are written with a rhythm as homage to the traditional Southern blues. Writing on the African American Literature Book Club Web site, Rondall Brasher commented that the author "taps right into and dishes up the hypnotic lyrical rhythms of performers from the Mississippi and Louisiana Deltas. "The reviewer went on to note that the author "not only captures Blues rhythms but he instills the essence of the blues." A Publishers Weekly contributor also observed that Young maintains "a unity of subject: like an old-fashioned sonnet sequence writ large, the book chronicles the star, progress, and catastrophic end of a love affair." "Young's achievement is … admirable," concluded the Library Journal reviewer Fred Muratori, "attesting to both the resilience of the blues and the skills of its talented practitioner."
Young borrows from the lexicon of the detective genre for Black Maria: Being the Adventures of Delilah Redbone & A.K.A. Jones. The poems here revolve around the thoughts of Redbone, a singer, and Jones, a detective, as they encounter the characters who live in Shadowtown, including The Champ and The Snitch. As Howard Rambsy II pointed out in the Black Issues Book Review, "The poems include witty put-downs and powerful boasts. For example, a character notes that 'The Boss' was so villainous that 'even his walking / stick was crooked.'" Rambsy also wrote that the collection "reveals a poet with a gift for blues inflected storytelling." Writing in the Library Journal, Fred Muratori commented, "Young throws himself into the world of 'fedoraed darkness' and smoky nightclubs with enthusiasm and grace." Booklist contributor Donna Seaman concluded that "Young turns cliché inside out in an ingenious celebration of improvisation in art and in life."
Young has also edited several books, including Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers, which features fiction, essays, and poetry covering such topics as slavery and poverty. As editor and selector for John Berryman: Selected Poems, Young presents a wide range of the Pulitzer Prize winner's works. A Wisconsin Bookwatch contributor commented that this collection is "[d]eftly edited" and would "aptly serve to introduce a whole new generation" to Berryman.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Young, Kevin, Most Way Home, Morrow (New York, NY), 1995.
African American Review, fall, 2002, Keith Gilyard, review of To Repel Ghosts: Five Sides in B Minor, p. 510.
Art in America, February, 2002, Raphael Rubinstein, review of To Repel Ghosts, p. 41.
Black Issues Book Review, May, 2001, review of To Repel Ghosts, p. 37; March-April, 2005, Howard Rambsy II, review of Black Maria: Being the Adventures of Delilah Redbone & A.K.A. Jones, p. 34; March-April, 2005, Quraysh Ali Lansana, "NEA Awards Four Brothers in Verse," p. 34.
Black Scholar, spring, 1995, review of Most Way Home, p. 74.
Booklist, January 1, 1995, Patricia Monaghan, review of Most Way Home, p. 796; May 15, 2001, review of To Repel Ghosts, p. 1724; February 1, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of Black Maria, p. 936.
Callaloo, winter, 1998, Charles H. Rowell, "An Interview with Kevin Young," p. 43.
Christian Science Monitor, November 18, 2003, review of Jelly Roll: A Blues, p. 17.
Library Journal, February 15, 1995, Ellen Kaufman, review of Most Way Home, pp. 159-160; November 1, 1999, Ann Burns and Emily J. Jones, review of Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers, p. 106; January, 2003, Fred Muratori, review of Jelly Roll, p. 116; February 15, 2005, Fred Muratori, review of Black Maria, p. 135.
Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1992, Randy Harvey
New York Times Book Review, May 1, 2005, Joel Brouwer, review of Black Maria, p. 8.
North American Review, January-February, 2003, Vince Gotera, review of Jelly Roll, p. 53.
Poetry, April, 1997, F. D. Reeve, review of Most Way Home, p. 37; May, 2002, John Taylor, review of To Repel Ghosts, p. 96.
Publishers Weekly, April 16, 2001, review of To Repel Ghosts, p. 60; November 25, 2002, review of Jelly Roll, p. 58; December 20, 2004, review of Black Maria, p. 52.
Washington Post, August 2, 2000, Rita Dove, "Poet's Choice," p. X12.
Wisconsin Bookwatch, November, 2004, review of John Berryman: Selected Poems.
Africana, http://www.africana.com/ (July 29, 2003), review of Jelly Roll.
African American Literature Book Club, http://www.aalbc.com/ (June 29, 2003), Rondall Brasher, review of Jelly Roll.
Bookpage.com, http://www.bookpage.com/ (July 29, 2003), Kate Daniels, review of Jelly Roll.
Indiana University Web site, http://www.indiana.edu/ (September 13, 2005), faculty profile of Kevin Young.
PopMatters, http://www.popmatters.com/ (July 29, 2003), John G. Nettles, review of To Repel Ghosts.
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (July 29, 2003), interview with Young.