Aims to expand and make more accessible the institution’s rare archives, which document the rich history and culture of people of African descent
AUGUST 1, 2016 — The New York Public Library has named distinguished poet and scholar Kevin Young as Director of its Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, an internationally recognized institution in Harlem dedicated to documenting and sharing black life, history, and culture in America and worldwide.
Young—a National Book Award finalist currently at Emory University as the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Creative Writing and English, Curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, and Curator of Literary Collections—will begin his tenure at the over-90-year-old Schomburg Center in late fall 2016.
“The Schomburg Center is the world’s preeminent institution for preserving and sharing the black experience, and Kevin Young’s unique perspective and new leadership are certain to preserve and grow that rich legacy and history,” said New York Public Library President Tony Marx. “As a scholar, curator, organization leader, and writer, Kevin is uniquely qualified to both expand and make more accessible the Schomburg’s irreplaceable, relevant, and important collections.”
Young—widely regarded as one of the leading poets of his generation—has held his current positions at Emory University since 2005. During his time as Curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library—a 75,000-volume collection of rare and modern poetry—and as Curator of Literary Collections, the university has acquired several important works and collections, from the archives of William S. Burroughs, Lucille Clifton, and Jack Kerouac to many key Irish collections and, along with his fellow curators, W.E.B. Du Bois’ copy of David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World.
The months-long search for this appointment was led by William Kelly, NYPL’s Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries, and NYPL Trustee Gordon Davis. Additional search committee members included NYPL Trustees Kwame Anthony Appiah, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Raymond McGuire, as well as renowned writer and professor Elizabeth Alexander, New York Urban League President Arva Rice, and Aysha E. Schomburg, the great-granddaughter of 20th-century bibliophile Arturo Schomburg, for whom the Center is named.
“Kevin Young is one of the country’s most distinguished curators and writers,” said William Kelly. “We’re delighted to welcome him to NYPL and look forward, with great enthusiasm, to his becoming our colleague.”
Young’s awards and honors include membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Award, and Guggenheim, Lannan, and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. He is widely recognized as a distinguished teacher, scholar, and public voice and has held named professorships at Princeton, Indiana University, and Beloit College. His poetry, reviews, and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and The American Scholar.
Young has published 11 books and edited 8 others. In February, Knopf published Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995-2015. His influential volume of cultural criticism, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, won the PEN Open Book Award, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, and was named a New York Times Notable Book. His Book of Hours (Knopf, 2014) was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Award and winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Young was a National Book Award finalist for Jelly Roll: A Blues, a collection of poetry.
“I am both honored and humbled to be entrusted with the directorship of the Schomburg Center, the world’s premiere repository for African American culture and the African diaspora,” said Kevin Young. “I look forward to continuing the Schomburg Center’s mission to expand access, acquire collections, and promote the preservation and learning of black history and letters, all in the heart of historic Harlem.”
The son of Louisiana-born parents, Young grew up in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Young graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and American Literature in 1992, held a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, and received his Master of Fine Arts from Brown University in 1996.
“As we approach the centennial anniversary of the Schomburg’s extraordinary collection, Kevin Young has demonstrated his commitment to advancing the legacy of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, as well as the capacity to grow the collections, exhibitions, and scholarly programs at the Center,” said Aysha E. Schomburg. “He joins a select group of African American scholars who have helped sustain and nurture the Schomburg legacy, and we look forward to his tenure.”
The Schomburg Center—a research division of The New York Public Library—has been devoted to the preservation of materials on global African and African Diasporan experiences since its inception in 1925. It currently has over 10 million items in its wide-ranging, noncirculating collections, including papers and artifacts from prominent figures such as Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, Ralph Bunche, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry, Nat King Cole, Booker T. Washington, and many more. It is also the foremost place in the nation to access manuscripts on slavery and abolitionism, and a wide range of historic photographs.
Additionally, the Schomburg’s rotating slate of exhibitions, film screenings, and programs illuminating and illustrating the richness of black history and culture has made it a beloved focal point of cultural life in Harlem and beyond.
Young succeeds Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, who was Director of the Schomburg Center since 2011 and left to accept a position as tenured professor at Harvard University with a dual appointment at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Schomburg Center flourished under Muhammad’s leadership, seeing a 34 percent increase in overall attendance, securing the collection of over 400 rare print items connected to slavery that became part of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery, and winning the prestigious 2015 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, presented by First Lady Michelle Obama in Washington, DC.