Yusef rose from being the son of a carpenter to becoming one of the most extraordinary poets writing today. In 1947, the eldest of five children James William Brown was born in a small town of Bogalusa, Louisiana. He would later grow up and reclaim the name Komunyakaa his grandfather had once lost as a stowaway in a ship from Trinidad. He was raised during the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
He served in the US Army as a correspondent and as a specialist for the military paper, interviewing fellow soldiers, writing stories and actions on the Vietnam War. Yusef Komunyakaa first began writing poetry at the University of Colorado in 1973. Two years later he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado Springs. Three years later, he would go on to earn his Master of Arts on writing from Colorado State University.
Then he would earn his Master of Fine Arts from the University of California in 1980. Now having his Master of Fine Arts, Komunyakaa began teaching poetry in the New Orleans public school system and also taught creative writing at the University of New Orleans. It wasn’t until 1984 that Yusef received wide recognition during the publication of “Copacetic”. His poems in his book brought people together because the poems examined the beliefs, sayings, and songs of blues and Jazz.
The Experiences he went through during the Vietnam War makes him integrate on the mental horrors of War. For example the torment shared by the soldiers or families suffering at home. The poems also explain issues of races and sex. Komunyakaa has always been fascinated with symbols that represent mortality and life’s fragility. The poems he writes of his own life are the images of life in his hometown Louisiana or the jungle of Vietnam. Komunyakaa is the proprietor of the 2011 Wallace Stevens Award.
Other honors include the William Faulkner Prize from the Universite de Rennes, the Thomas Forcade Award, the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. The Hanes Poetry Prize, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Dark Room Poetry Prize and San Francisco Poetry Center Award. He has published several books of poems, including “Talking Dirty to the Gods”, “Thieves of Paradise”, “Neon Vernacular”, “Copacetic” and “Dien Cai Dau”. Yusef Komunyakaa currently is living in New York City.
Yusef still writes poems which expose his incorporation of Jazz and the war influences. His most recent work includes “The Chameleon Couch” which was published in 2011 and “Warhorses” which was published in 2008. Yusef Komunyakaa proves us that it doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters what you grow up to be. His books and honors are perfect examples of this. He has grown up to be one of the best poets of his time with dedication and perseverance.