Al Young

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Al Young (born May 31, 1939) is an American poet, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and professor. On May 15, 2005, he was named Poet Laureate of California by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In appointing Young as Poet Laureate, the Governor praised him: "He is an educator and a man with a passion for the Arts. His remarkable talent and sense of mission to bring poetry into the lives of Californians is an inspiration." Muriel Johnson, Director of the California Arts Council declared: "Like jazz, Al Young is an original American voice."[1] Young’s many books include novels, collections of poetry, essays, and memoirs. His work has appeared in literary journals and magazines including Paris Review, Ploughshares,[2] Essence, The New York Times, Chicago Review,[3] Seattle Review, Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz & Literature, Chelsea, Rolling Stone, Gathering of the Tribes, and in anthologies including the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, and the Oxford Anthology of African American Literature.[4][5]


Born May 31, 1939, in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, on the Gulf Coast near Biloxi,[6] Al Young grew up in the rural South of villages and small towns, and in urban, industrial Detroit. From 1957 to 1960 he attended the University of Michigan, where he co-edited Generation, the campus literary magazine. In 1961 he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Settling at first in Berkeley, he held a variety of colorful jobs (folksinger, lab aide, disk jockey, medical photographer, clerk typist, employment counselor) before graduating with honors from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in Spanish. His marriage in 1963 to technical writer and editor Arline Young produced one child: their son Michael, born in 1971. From 1969 to 1976 he was Edward B. Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford near Palo Alto, where he lived and worked for three decades. In the year 2000 he returned to Berkeley, where he continues to freelance.[4][4][5]

Teaching career[edit]

Young has taught poetry, fiction writing and American literature at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Cruz, U.C. Davis, Bowling Green State University, Foothill College, the Colorado College, Rice University, the University of Washington, the University of Michigan, the University of Arkansas, San José State University, where he was appointed the 2002 Lurie Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing, and Charles University in the Czech Republic under the auspices of the Prague Summer Programs. In the spring of 2003 he taught poetry at Davidson College (Davidson, NC), where he was McGee Professor in Writing. In the fall of 2003, as the first Coffey Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, he taught a poetry workshop. From 2003 to 2006 he served on the faculty of Cave Canem’s summer workshop retreats for African American poets.[4][4][5]

Honors and awards[edit]

His honors include Wallace Stegner, Guggenheim,[7] Fulbright, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships,[8] the PEN-Library of Congress Award for Short Fiction, the PEN-USA Award for Non-Fiction, two Pushcart Prizes, two The New York Times Notable Book of the year citations, an Arts Council Silicon Valley Fellowship, the Stephen Henderson Achievement Award for Poetry, Radio Pacifica’s KPFA Peace Prize, the Glenna Luschei Distinguished Poetry Fellowship, and the Richard Wright Award for Excellence in Literature. He has twice received the American Book Award, for Bodies and Soul: Musical Memoirs (1982) and The Sound of Dreams Remembered: Poems 1990-2000 (2002).[4][4][5]

In the 1970s he wrote film scripts for producer Joseph Strick, Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, and Richard Pryor. In the 1980s and '90s, as a cultural ambassador for the United States Information Agency, he traveled throughout South Asia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. In 2001 he traveled to the Persian Gulf to lecture on American and African-American literature and culture in Kuwait and in Bahrain for the U.S. Department of State. Subsequent lecture tours took him to Southern Italy in 2004, and to Italy in 2005. His poetry and prose have been translated into Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Serbo-Croatian, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, German, Urdu, Korean, and other languages. Blending story, recitation and song, Young often performs with musicians.[4][4][5]

Published works[edit]

Full-Length Poetry Collections

  • Something About the Blues: An Unlikely Collection of Poetry (Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2008)
  • Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons: Poems 2001-2006 (Angel City Press, 2006)
  • The Sound of Dreams Remembered: Poems 1990-2000 (Creative Arts Book Company, 2001)
  • Heaven: Collected Poems: 1956-1990 (Creative Arts Book Company, 1992)
  • The Blues Don't Change: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1982)
  • Geography of the Near Past (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1976)
  • The Song Turning Back into Itself (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971)
  • Dancing (Corinth Books, 1969)


  • Conjugal Visits (Creative Arts Book Company, 1996)[9]
  • Straight No Chaser (Creative Arts Book, 2011)

Musical Memoirs

  • Drowning in the Sea of Love (Ecco Press, 1995)
  • Mingus Mingus: Two Memoirs (with Janet Coleman, Creative Arts Book Company, 1989)
  • Things Ain't What They Used to Be (Creative Arts Book Company, 1986)
  • Kinds of Blue (Creative Arts Book Company, 1984)
  • Bodies & Soul (Creative Arts Book Company, 1981)


  • Seduction By Light (Delta Fiction, 1988)
  • Ask Me Now (New York: McGraw-Hill; San Francisco: San Francisco Book Co., 1980)
  • Sitting Pretty (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976)
  • Who Is Angelina? (University of California Press, 1996, 1975)
  • Snakes (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970)


  • Jazz Idiom: blueprints, stills, and frames : the jazz photography of Charles L. Robinson (photographs and comments by Charles L. Robinson, poetic takes and riffs by Al Young, Heyday Books, 2008)

Anthologies Edited

  • The Literature of California, Volume 1: Native American Beginnings to 1945 (with Jack Hicks, James D. Houston and Maxine Hong Kingston, eds., University of California Press, 2000)[10]
  • African American Literature: A Brief Introduction and Anthology (HarperCollins College Publishers, 1996)
  • Yardbird Lives! (co-edited with Ishmael Reed, Grove Press, 1978)



External links[edit]