PULITZER PRIZE WINNER YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA: AN ANCHOR TO HUMANITY

PULITZER PRIZE WINNER YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA: AN ANCHOR TO HUMANITY

by Ann Gill

A MAN OF EXTRAORDINARY VISION. A man of extraordinary words. Colorado State University alumnus Yusef Komunyakaa (M.A. ’78) is a prize-winning poet of international renown. As fellow poet Toi Derricotte once said, “He shows us in ever deeper ways what it is to be human.”

Komunyakaa was on campus April 21 to accept his 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award and present a public reading of his poetry. Born in Bogalusa, La., he served in the Army during the Vietnam War and was a writer and managing editor for the military paper Southern Cross. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his coverage of the war. When he returned to the United States, he turned to poetry and earned a master of arts degree in creative writing from CSU in 1978.

According to Derricotte, Komunyakaa’s poetry “takes on the most complex moral issues, the most harrowing ugly subjects of our American life. His voice, whether it embodies the specific experiences of a black man, a soldier in Vietnam, or a child in Bogalusa, Louisiana, is universal.”

Professor Emeritus Bill Tremblay, who has known Komunyakaa since he was a student, explains his extraordinary vision.

“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, learning about ‘the mysterious power of the adult world.’”

Komunyakaa is the recipient of many literary awards, including being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in April (alongside Temple Grandin) and the 1994 Pulitzer Prize. When asked what took him from emerging poet to Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Komunyakaa spoke of doing physical labor as an apprentice to a cabinetmaker while continuing to write.

“I believed, as a poet, my language could become more tangible doing work that anchored me in this world,” said Komunyakaa, “and that took me back to when I was a teenager cutting pulpwood from daybreak to sunset. In the woods, with birds singing and animal life around me, with sweat dripping in my eyes and the smell of pine in the air, I could travel great distances in my imagination.”

“I WOULD HOPE MY AUDIENCE INCLUDES ANYONE WHO CARES ABOUT LANGUAGE AND HUMANITY.”
– YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA

The Colorado State creative writing program has launched a campaign to support graduate student fellowships in order to attract top-caliber students to this outstanding program. Donations to this program may help recruit CSU’s next prize-winning poet.

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