The Smithsonian has named 1988 Topeka West High School graduate Kevin Young as director of its National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The Smithsonian, a group of museums and research centers in Washington, D.C., announced Wednesday that Young had been chosen to succeed Lonnie G. Bunch, director of the NMAAHC since it was founded four years ago, when Bunch leaves that position to become the Smithsonian’s secretary in January.
With more than 37,000 objects, the NMAAHC is the nation’s largest center dedicated to the African American experience. Since opening in September 2016, it has had more than 5.5 million visitors.
Young, 49, has been poetry editor since 2017 for the New Yorker magazine and director since 2016 of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research division of the New York Public Library.
He said in a news release that he looked forward to guiding the NMAAHC through its next phase of leadership.
"Having visited the museum myself with my family, I know what a powerful place it is, transforming visitors both in-person and online, and revealing the centrality of African American culture to the American experience," Young said. "I am eager to engage further directions in the museum’s mission, embracing our digital present and future while furthering conversations around Black history, art, liberation and joy."
Young was born in Lincoln, Neb. After his family moved to Topeka, he attended a summer writing class at age 13 at Washburn University.
Washburn professor emeritus Thomas Fox Averill told The Topeka Capital-Journal in 2017 that he worked with Young for two weeks while teaching that class for gifted young writers.
"He was so good with language," Averill said. "You knew it when he was 13. He loved words and word play. He could tell a little story in eight or nine lines."
Young graduated in 1992 from Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University with a degree in English and American literature, then earned a master’s degree in creative writing in 1996 from Providence, R.I.-based Brown University. He taught for 11 years at Atlanta’s Emory University.
Young returned to Topeka in 2017 to be keynote speaker at Brooksfest, a festival held to celebrate the 100th birthday of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who was born June 7, 1917, in Topeka. Brooks became the first black person to win a Pulitzer Prize. She died in 2000.
Young has written 11 books of poetry and prose, according to Wednesday’s news release.
It said that as director of the Schomburg Center, he raised $10 million in grants and donations and increased attendance by 40%.