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, Ta-Nehisi Coates called Komunyakaa “probably my favorite living poet,” and said, “No one else taught me more about how important it was to think about how words make people feel.It’s not enough for people to know something is true.Yusef Komunyakaa captivates his audience with his distinct reading style.
His other honors include the William Faulkner Prize from the Université de Rennes, the Thomas Forcade Award, the Hanes Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Louisiana Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1999 and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2009.
He also co-edited The Jazz Poetry Anthology and co-translated The Insomnia of Fire by Nguyen Quang Thieu.
His honors include the William Faulkner Prize from the Universite Rennes, the Thomas Forcade Award, the Hanes Poetry Prize, fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Louisiana Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam, where he served as a correspondent and managing editor of the Southern Cross.
He may read some lines quickly, so that they seem to run together and are punctuated by the consonants’ staccato.
Other times, he reads slowly so that each line seems to hang in the air, as the listener is suspended in the silence at the end of the line, waiting for the next image the poet will conjure.
Because blacks were not allowed to check out books from or even read inside the public library, Komunyakaa would explore a small library maintained by a black church.
There he discovered writers such as James Baldwin and the poets of the Harlem Renaissance.
It was also a place of stark segregation and racial violence.
In “Dark Waters,” he describes how the disparity between the white marble monuments dedicated to southern generals and the makeshift graves of African-Americans near the festering town dump “was analogous to the town’s psyche.” Writing for the in 2009, he said of his childhood, “It was impossible not to have known and lived within the social and political dimensions of skin color.” However, for him Bogalusa was also a place of stunning natural beauty where “yellow flowers/go on forever” and “slate-blue catfish” swimming under a pond’s surface cause swamp orchids to “quiver under green hats.” He grew up surrounded by the rich musical and storytelling tradition of the Deep South.