Former Kansan to lead Smithsonian museum of African American history, culture

Emilee Geist

Former Topeka resident Kevin Young, a poet and author, will become director of the director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. (Melanie Dunea/Smithsonian Institution) By TIM CARPENTERKansas Reflector TOPEKA — Former Kansan Kevin Young was named Wednesday as director of the Smithsonian’s National […]

Former Topeka resident Kevin Young, a poet and author, will become director of the director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. (Melanie Dunea/Smithsonian Institution)

By TIM CARPENTER
Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Former Kansan
Kevin Young was named Wednesday as director of the Smithsonian’s
National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Young is best known as a
poet, author, essayist and editor. He’s published 11 books of poetry,
two works of nonfiction and served as editor of 10 other works,
including a book coming out this fall, “African American Poetry: 250
Years of Struggle and Song.”

He will start in January
at the museum in Washington, D.C. He will remain director of the
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City until
December. Since 2016, he’s been poetry editor at The New Yorker magazine
and is expected to retain that post.

Young, 49, said he was
eager to be part of the museum’s powerful influence on visitors and to
reveal the central role of African American culture in the nation’s
experience. He wants to further conversations “around Black history,
art, liberation and joy.”

“I look forward to
directing the National Museum of African American History and Culture in
this next phase of leadership, after its founding, opening and dynamic
exhibitions and events,” Young said. “Having visited the museum myself
with my family, I know what a powerful place it is.”

He was born in Nebraska,
but his family lived in six different places before he reached the age
of 10. His family settled in Topeka, where he began to pursue writing at
age 13 following a summer writing class at Washburn University in
Topeka.

He earned degrees at
Harvard and Brown universities, and held a two-year fellowship at
Stanford University. He taught at Emory University for 11 years.

Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, said Young would bring a mix of scholarship, technological savvy and bold vision.

“As a poet, he understands
how the museum fulfilled the dreams of many Americans, and under his
leadership the museum will shape the hopes of future generations.”

During his four-year
tenure as director of the Schomburg Center, Young secured the
Harlem-based archives of Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Ossie Davis and
Ruby Dee, Sonny Rollins and Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Brathwaite and the
manuscript of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” including a once-lost
chapter. At the Schomburg Center, he raised $10 million in grants and
donations and bolstered attendance by 40%.

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.

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