Kevin Young ’92 to receive Harvard Arts Medal

Kevin Young is the 2024 Harvard Arts Medal recipient

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Kevin Young ’92, acclaimed poet, scholar and director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will be honored with the 2024 Harvard Arts Medal at a spring ceremony that kicks off the Arts First Festival.

“Each year, Harvard and the Office for the Arts honors a Harvard graduate who has achieved distinction in the arts and whose career serves as an inspiration to aspiring undergraduate artists,” said Jack Megan, director of the Office for the Arts. “Kevin Young strides two important fields of artistic expression. He is a celebrated poet, author, essayist and editor, and the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Harvard Arts Medal celebrates both roles as vital to the fabric of community life.”

Young, widely considered a leading voice of poetry for his generation, is the author of 15 books of poetry and prose, including “Stones,” shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and “Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995-2015” longlisted for the National Book Award. Young is poetry editor at the New Yorker and editor of nine poetry volumes, most recently “African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song.”

“Kevin Young is a poet of many vernaculars: the intimate languages springing up among kin, around food, within music and movies and visual art,” said Tracy K. Smith, professor of English and of African and African American Studies and Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Radcliffe Institute. “Importantly, he also draws us into a courageous intimacy with languages we’d otherwise fear or shun: the vocabulary of loss and grief, the known names of dangers we’d rather relegate to ‘history.’”

Young holds a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.F.A. from Brown University. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016 and was named a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Young became director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2021. He was previously director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. Before that, Young was the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Creative Writing and English at Emory University, where he curated the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library.

Established in 1995, the Harvard Arts Medal honors a distinguished Harvard or Radcliffe graduate or faculty member who has achieved excellence in the arts and has contributed through the arts to education or the public good. Previous Medal recipients include Yo-Yo Ma ’76, Bonnie Raitt ’72, Pete Seeger ’40, Matt Damon ’92, Colson Whitehead ’91 and Margaret Atwood, A.M. ’62. Young is the first museum director to receive the medal.

Young will receive the award from Interim President Alan Garber in a public ceremony April 24 at Lowell Lecture Hall. Free and open to all. Doors open at 4:30 p.m., ceremony starts at 5 p.m. The event will be live-streamed.