(May 1, 2014)
Pulitzer Prize winner to receive Honorary Doctorate from Centenary College
SHREVEPORT, LA — Pulitzer Prize winner and Louisiana native Yusef Komunyakaa will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at this year's graduation alongside Moonbot creater William Joyce.
Yusef Komunyakaa and Dr. David Havird
"As quintessentially American as Walt Whitman, Yusef Komunyakaa has created a body of work whose epic range and deep empathy rival that of Whitman's Leaves of Grass," said Dr. David Havird, Professor of English. "Whether he is writing about his childhood and adolescence in the lushly atmospheric and racially oppressive South or his early manhood in the treacherous jungles of Vietnam, Komunyakaa displays a sinuous lyricism that rivals not only the verbal resourcefulness of Whitman but also the improvisational cunning of the jazz greats to whom he has paid tribute. If Leaves of Grass is America's singular contribution to world poetry, jazz is America's singular contribution to world music, and with Whitman and Charlie Parker, Komunyakaa is keeping pace."
Hailing from Bogalusa, Louisiana, Komunyakaa has taught English and African American studies at universities across the country. From 1965–67, Komunyakaa served in Vietnam as a U.S. Army information specialist and editor of the Southern Cross, a military newspaper, and received the Bronze Star for his service.
Komunyakaa first received wide recognition following the 1984 publication of Copacetic, a collection of poems built from colloquial speech which demonstrated his incorporation of jazz influences. He followed the book with two others: I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head, winner of the San Francisco Poetry Center Award; and Dien Cai Dau, which won the Dark Room Poetry Prize. Dien Cai Dau has been cited by poets William Matthews and Robert Hass as being among the best writing on the war in Vietnam.
Since then, he has published several books of poems, including The Chameleon Couch; Warhorses; Taboo: The Wishbone Trilogy, Part 1; Pleasure Dome: New & Collected Poems, 1975-1999; Talking Dirty to the Gods; Thieves of Paradise, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Magic City; and Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.
Critics consider Komunyakaa's poetry in Neon Vernacular as some of his greatest work. Using simple language, he draws from personal experience to present images of the South and its culture, racial tensions, and jazz and blues.
Komunyakaa has written 12 books of poetry and contributed to numerous anthologies and periodicals. He has co-edited two jazz poetry anthologies, helped translate The Insomnia of Fire by Nguyen Quang Thieu, and compiled a book of prose, Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews, and Commentaries.
In 2006, Centenary presented Komunyakaa with the Corrington Award. Named for Centenary alumnus and author of the short novel Decoration Day, the John William Corrington Award takes the form of a bronze medal designed by the internationally acclaimed Louisiana sculptor Clyde Connell.
Centenary graduation is Saturday, May 3, at 10:30 a.m. at the Gold Dome. The event is free and open to the public. Doors will open at 9:30 a.m. Contact the Centenary Department of Public Safety at 318.869.5164 to reserve handicap seating.