Reflecting on “Yusef Komunyakaa: A Celebration”

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On May 11, 2019, an audience of more than 300 gathered at New York University for a day-long tribute to the living legend, poet Yusef Komunyakaa.

The tribute began with a morning share, wherein students, colleagues and creative collaborators spoke of Komunyakaa’s impact on their artistic practice and personal lives.

Afterward, the panel “Love in the Time of War,” with Maurice Decaul, Toi Derricotte, Tyehimba Jess, Kevin Young and Javier Zamora, offered a moderated discussion on love, generosity, conflict and craft in Komunyakaa’s writing on war.

“How Deep the Heart Runs” featured a host of Komunyakaa’s former students reading original works, either inspired by Komunyakaa himself or written with his guidance. One attendee described the showcase as having a “dynamic energy of diverse voices celebrating a legendary poet.”

The tribute closed with “Speaking Joy and Pain,” a culminating performance with Tomás Doncker, Tyehimba Jess, Sharon Olds, Gregory Pardlo, Hermine Pinson and, of course, Yusef Komunyakaa.

We’re thankful for the generosity of our co-presenters, NYU Creative Writing Center; PEN American World Voices Festival; and the Poetry Foundation, as well as our co-sponsors who helped make Yusef Komunyakaa: A Celebration possible. And, eternally grateful to Yusef Komunyakaa, whose poetry, legacy, and timeless teachings will continue to guide revolutionary poetics for generations to come.


This program was made possible by generous contributions from the NYU Creative Writing Center; PEN American World Voices Festival; the Poetry Foundation; Center for African American Poetry and Poetics (CAAPP); HarperCollins; Boston University; NYC Department of Cultural Affairs; Red Olive Creative Consulting; Dr. Safiya Sinclair & Mitchell S. Jackson; Kwame Dawes; Marie-Elizabeth Mali; and Dawn Lundy Martin!