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Poet with Kansas roots presents annual Tuttle Lecture

Tuesday, October 04, 2016


LAWRENCE – A poet whose upbringing and trajectory share similarities with Langston Hughes will visit the University of Kansas for the annual Bill Tuttle Distinguished Lecture in American Studies.

This year’s featured speaker, Kevin Young, is known as one of the most important poets of his generation. Young grew up in Topeka, just 30 miles from Lawrence, where Hughes spent formative years. Like Hughes, Young’s poetry is influenced by his time in Kansas, but he became well-known for his work after he left the state. He was featured in a research project and exhibit at KU last spring, Black Literary Suite: Black Writers with a Kansas Connection.

The Tuttle Lecture is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union. The event is free and open to the public.

Young is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Creative Writing and English and the curator of Literary Collections and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University.  Later this fall, he will become the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library in Harlem.

He has received numerous awards and felIowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry, and, in 2016, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

While an undergraduate at Harvard University, Young studied with the Nobel-Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, and while there he became a member of the Dark Room Collective, a community of African-American writers. Later, as a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, he studied with Denise Levertov. Young has been deeply influenced by Hughes as well as poets John Berryman and Emily Dickinson and by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Young is the author of 11 books of poetry and prose, including most recently “Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems 1995-2015.” His “Book of Hours” is the winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize for Poetry from the Academy of American Poets. Among Kevin's other books are “Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels,” “For the Confederate Dead,” “Dear Darkness,” “Black Maria” and “To Repel Ghosts.” His collection “Jelly Roll: a blues” was a finalist for the National Book Award. His poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review and other literary magazines. 

Young has also excelled in nonfiction writing. His book “The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness” won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize; it was also named a New York Times Notable Book for 2012 and was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. In addition, he is the editor of several collections, including “The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton,” “The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink,” “Jazz Poems,” “Blues Poems” and “Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers.”

The Department of American Studies and friends and family of KU Professor Emeritus Bill Tuttle established the annual Bill Tuttle Distinguished Lecture in 2008 to honor Tuttle for his 40 years of academic excellence in research and teaching, as well as his service to the university, the Lawrence community, and the nation. The Tuttle Lecture focuses on Tuttle’s primary teaching, research and civic concerns: African-American history and culture and recent American society and politics.

The lecture is co-sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and its departments of African & African-American Studies, American Studies and English; Hall Center for the Humanities; KU Libraries;  Office of Multicultural Affairs; Beth Bailey, Foundation Distinguished Professor of History; David Roediger, Foundation Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History; and Student Athlete Support Services.

Photo: KevinYoungPoetry.com