Governor Schwarzenegger Appoints Al Young Poet Laureate


Underscoring the importance of poetry and the literary arts, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today appointed Al Young California's poet laureate. The role of the poet laureate is to inspire an emerging generation of literary artists and to educate all Californians about the many poets and authors who have influenced our great state through creative literary expression. "Al Young is a poet, an educator and a man with a passion for the arts. His remarkable talent and sense of mission to bring poetry into the lives of Californians is an inspiration," said Governor Schwarzenegger. Young, 65, was born in Mississippi and was reading by the age of three. He began publishing poems, stories and articles in his early teens. Young has lived most of his life in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been a poet, writer, teacher and lecturer throughout his literary career. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley in Spanish. He has taught poetry and fiction writing at a number of universities nationwide including the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Santa Cruz; the University of California, Davis; and Stanford University. Versatile and prolific, his works have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Review, Seattle Review, Rolling Stone, and the Norton Anthology of African American Literature. As a screen writer, Young has worked with Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor. Young often travels internationally -- reading, lecturing and performing with musicians. His poetry and prose have been translated into Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Serbo-Croatian, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, German, and other languages. In 2001, he traveled to the Persian Gulf to lecture in Kuwait and Bahrain on African American literature and culture for the United States Department of State. In March 2005, he completed a three-week lecture tour of India with the United States Department of State. Young has also received numerous awards including the Wallace Stegner, Guggenheim, Fulbright, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, the PEN-USA Award for Non-Fiction, and the Pushcart Prize, as well as two American Book Awards and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year citation. "In choosing Al Young, Governor Schwarzenegger has found a gifted poet who believes that poetry belongs to the people and has the capacity to improve society and transform lives," said State Librarian Emeritus Kevin Starr. John Steinbeck once said "literature has grown out of a human need and it has not changed except to become more needed." California is no exception to this rule and is home to some of the world's most influential historic and contemporary literary artists. Among California literary geniuses are: Ina Coolbrith, who was appointed the state's first poet laureate in 1915 and served as mentor to Mark Twain, Jack London and many other great artists of the Golden Era; Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who played a central role during the Beat movement; and Ishmael Reed, whose contemporary voice speaks to our multi-cultural society. The position of California Poet Laureate was created by legislation authored by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (AB 113) and signed into law in 2001. Under this legislation, the California Arts Council solicits nominations from literary groups, public and private arts organizations, literary critics and universities for the position. A panel of literary professionals is then convened to review the candidates and four nominees are submitted to the Governor. The Governor makes the final determination and appointment to the position. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $10,000 to be paid over the course of the two-year term. Young is a Democrat. "The California Arts Council is thrilled that the Governor has selected a California Poet Laureate from a list of extremely accomplished and well-known writers. Al Young is incredibly distinguished, both in his career as a university professor and through his travels around the world as a lecturer on poetry. Like jazz, Al Young is an original American voice. We look forward to working with Al as he makes appearances in various communities around the state," said California Arts Council Director Muriel Johnson. The California poet laureate works in conjunction with the California Arts Council to bring the poetic arts to Californians and to California students who might otherwise have little opportunity to be exposed to poetry. Before 2001, the position was unofficial and honorary, conferred by the Legislature and held for a lifetime.