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Upcoming: Pulitzer Poet Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa. Photo credit: David Shankbone. Shared under a Creative Commons license.

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Pulitzer Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa has been reading a lot of North Carolina poetry lately: He served as this year’s judge for the NC State Poetry Contest.

The contest — considered one of the largest free poetry contests in the southeast — yielded 636 entries this year.

When Komunyakaa visits NC State April 6-7, he will announce the contest winners, visit with students and hold a public reading of his own poetry.

The scholar, professor and prize-winning poet earned a 1994 Pulitzer Prize and the $50,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for his Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems. His subject matter ranges from black experience and rural Southern life before and during the Civil Rights era to his experience as a soldier during the Vietnam War.

“It is a treat and an honor to have a poet of this stature visit here — and to serve as our guest judge for the contest,” says NC State Poet in Residence John Balaban.

Balaban has known Yusef Komunyakaa since the two came back from Vietnam. “A complex merger of place and voice is the hallmark of a Komunyakaa poem, whether set in a sawmill town in Louisiana or a night patrol in wartime Vietnam,” said Balaban. “In the 1970s, we were both writing poetry about the war we had just returned from and we often appeared in the same venues to read. I have the utmost respect for him and for his poetry.”

Komunyakaa was born and raised in Bogalusa, Louisiana, the son of a carpenter and grandson of a Trinidadian stowaway. 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 a Bronze Star.

He teaches at New York University. His  recent works include Testimony: A Tribute to Charlie Parker (Wesleyan University Press, 2013), The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), and Emperor of Water Clocks (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015). Komunyakaa received the 2007 Louisiana Writer Award for his enduring contribution to the poetry world.

Yusef Komunyakaa will announce the poetry contest winners and read from his work at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 7, 2016, at Withers Hall Auditorium (Withers 232A) on the NC State Campus: 101 Lampe Drive, Raleigh, NC, 27607. The event is free and open to the public.