Kevin Young



  • April 2018
  • Alfred A. Knopf
  • Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audio
Buy online

A New York Times Notable Book
New York Times Editors' Choice selection
An NPR Best Book of 2018
A Lit Hub "Best Reviewed Book of 2018"
A Commonweal Best Book of 2018
One of O, The Oprah Magazine's "Best Books to Give as Gifts"
One of The Root's Best Books of 2018
One of BuzzFeed's "Most Beautiful Book Covers of 2018"
#2 on Book Scrolling's best-reviewed poetry books of 2018

James Brown. John Brown's raid. Brown v. the Topeka Board of Ed. The prize-winning author of Blue Laws meditates on all things "brown" in this powerful new collection.

Divided into "Home Recordings" and "Field Recordings," Brown speaks to the way personal experience is shaped by culture, while culture is forever affected by the personal, recalling a black Kansas boyhood to comment on our times. From "History"—a song of Kansas high-school fixture Mr. W., who gave his students "the Sixties / minus Malcolm X, or Watts, / barely a march on Washington"—to "Money Road," a sobering pilgrimage to the site of Emmett Till's lynching, the poems engage place and the past and their intertwined power.

These thirty-two taut poems and poetic sequences, including an oratorio based on Mississippi "barkeep, activist, waiter" Booker Wright that was performed at Carnegie Hall and the vibrant sonnet cycle "De La Soul Is Dead," about the days when hip-hop was growing up ("we were black then, not yet / African American"), remind us that blackness and brownness tell an ongoing story. A testament to Young's own—and our collective—experience, Brown offers beautiful, sustained harmonies from a poet whose wisdom deepens with time.

Reviews & Praise 

Keeping up with him is like trying to keep up with Bob Dylan or Prince in their primes. Even the bootlegs have bootlegs. . . . Young is a maximalist, a putter-inner, an evoker of roiling appetites. As a poet of music and food, his only rival is Charles Simic. His love poems are beautiful and sexy and ecstatic. . . . Brown [is] vital and sophisticated . . . a solid midcareer statement.

—Dwight Garner, New York Times

Young’s book releases a universal shout—political in the best, most visceral way, critical, angry, squinting hard at this culture—while remaining at the same time deeply and lovingly personal.

Luis Alberto Urrea, New York Times Book Review

Kevin Young's Brown poems are not only beautiful, but essential. . . . Young perfectly illustrates poetry’s enduring vitality—and his new book reveals exactly why. . . . A survey of American history through the “intimate eye” that only poetry can provide, Brown pinpoints pop-cultural touchstones and their impact on how we live. . . . Brown represents Young still breaking new ground.

—David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly

Ambitious . . . . [Young] effortlessly blends memories of his own experiences—his childhood in Kansas, his college years and his travels—with reflections on sports figures, musicians and others who have impacted American life. . . . Young’s writing is crisp and well paced, his rhythms and harmonies complex. His virtuosity is on display as he illustrates the intersections between place and the past, the individual and the collective consciousness.

—Elizabeth Lund, Washington Post

Trains give momentum and rhythm to the lyrics that follow, which are organized into "Home Recordings" and "Field Recordings." The first contains poems composed of gliding tercets spelling motion as Young evokes an American boyhood of baseball, friends, and family in Kansas, punctuated by racism. In the second section, the speaker heads out into the world, guided by James Brown, Prince, Public Enemy, and Fishbone. Thrillingly quick-footed, Young’s poems are also formally intricate and fully loaded with history, protest, and emotion.

Booklist, starred review

A richly envisioned memoir in verse offering a wide-ranging yet intimate account of growing up in a country that has yet to live up to its promises.

Library Journal

Young . . . reflects on the varied nature and meanings of brownness in a typically ambitious collection that honors black culture and struggle.

Publishers Weekly

Sample Poems