Yusef Komunyakaa , original name in full James William Brown, Jr. (born April 29, 1947, Bogalusa, Louisiana, U.S.), American Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and professor known for his autobiographical poems about race, the Vietnam War, and jazz and blues.
Komunyakaa was born in the conservative rural South on the cusp of the civil rights movement. His father, a carpenter and strong proponent of the moral value of manual labour, was illiterate and struggled with raising a son who was naturally drawn toward books. Komunyakaa had little literature to choose from and read the Bible, encyclopaedias purchased by his mother, and James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name, a novel he borrowed repeatedly from a local church library (the local public library there in Bogalusa, Louisiana, did not admit African Americans). He also listened avidly to jazz and blues on the radio, an activity he credited with laying the groundwork for his sense of rhythm as a poet later on. He legally changed his name to Komunyakaa in tribute to his grandfather from the West Indies, who, as family legend went, had arrived in America as a stowaway on a ship. Komunyakaa enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1969. He served in Vietnam as a war correspondent (and later an editor) for The Southern Cross, a military newspaper (1969–70), earning a Bronze Star for his service.
Upon returning from the war, Komunyakaa attended the University of Colorado on the G.I. Bill. He began writing poetry in a creative writing course in college and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1975. He went on to pursue a master’s at Colorado State University (1978) and a master’s in fine arts from the University of California, Irvine (1980). While in school he produced two chapbooks, Dedications & Other Darkhorses (1977) and Lost in the Bonewheel Factory (1979). In 1984 he published his first book of poetry with a commercial publisher: Copacetic, a collection of autobiographical poems for which he drew on his childhood experiences living in the rural South and on the deep-rooted traditions of