Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, where he was raised during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. He served in the United States Army from 1969 to 1970 as a correspondent, and as managing editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam war, earning him a Bronze Star.
Komunyakaa first received wide recognition following the 1984 publication of Copacetic, a collection of poems built from colloquial speech, which demonstrated his incorporation of jazz influences. He followed this book with two others: I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head (1986), winner of the San Francisco Poetry Center Award; and Dien Cai Dau (1988), which won the Dark Room Poetry Prize and has been cited by poets such as William Matthews and Robert Hass as being among the best writing on the war in Vietnam.
Komunyakaa has traveled far to become a scholar, professor, and prize-winning poet. In 1994, he claimed the Pulitzer Prize and the $50,000 Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award for his Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems. In Neon Vernacular, Komunyakaa pulls together all of the most powerful strands of his poetic vision. The images are those of the South and its culture, of blacks living in a white world, of war in Southeast Asia, of cities pulsing to the blues and jazz.
This year's event, featuring poet Yusef Komunyakaa, was on March 27, 2014 and is available to view online.