Young, Al

Young, Al (Albert James), 1939-2021, Univ. of Calif., Berkeley (BA, 1969), African-American poet, b. Ocean Springs, Ms. The son of sharecroppers, Young's family moved to Detroit, Mi., when he was in grade school. He was exposed to jazz and blues music from an early age thanks to his father’s extensive record collection. He edited his high school newspaper, and then attended college at the Univ. of Mich. for three years, co-editing its literary magazine, before moving to San Francisco, Ca. He tried different occupations, including performing briefly as a folksinger and working as a DJ, before taking up poetry, publishing his first collection, Dancing, in 1959. He closely associated poetry and music, as shown in collections like The Blues Don’t Change (1982), and sometimes shared the stage with jazz musicians. He was noted for his dramatic recitations of his own poems, which he viewed as an important part of communicating with his audience. Young served as poet laureate for California from 2005-08. In 2007, he toured the state from “top to bottom,” as he said, in his role of poet laureate, giving 40 readings in 11 days. Besides writing poetry and novels, Young taught writing and literature at numerous colleges, including at Stanford Univ. (1969-76).

See his collected poems (2002); and memoirs Bodies and Soul (1981), Kinds of Blue (1984), Things Ain’t What They Used to Be (1986), Mingus/Mingus: Two Memoirs (1989; with Janet Coleman), Drowning in the Sea of Love: Musical Memoirs (1995).

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