Yusef Komunyakaa is an African American writer who uses his home-town jargon to create images of his life and of the Vietnam War through poetry. As the son of a modest carpenter, Komunyakaa has come far to become a scholar, award-winning poet, and a professor. Komunyakaa was born April 29, 1947, in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He married Mandy Sayer, another writer, in 1985. Komunyakaa was the oldest of five children. He went to the University of Colorado, Colorado State, and the University of California. Komunyakaa worked mostly as an English teacher at many different elementary school and colleges. His greatest influences came from his home-town-Bogalusa. Bogalusa was a small segregated town when he was brought up there. He uses the rich folk jargon of the town to convey his life in more believably human words rather than long, meticulous words of traditional poetry. He uses this to write about his time as a Vietnam correspondent and his life in Bogalusa. "Being from the South, I didn't fear the vegetation and climate of Vietnam nearly as much as if I had been from an urban environment. I could identify with the landscape and with the Vietnamese people as a whole. That made it very hard to hate them as the enemy. Vietnam helped me to look at the horror and terror in the hearts of people and realize how we can't aim guns and set booby traps for people we have never spoken a word to. That kind of impersonal violence mystifies me." His experiences in Vietnam inspire him to write poetry.
Before 1983 Komunyakaa's experience of Vietnam had been "blurred images submerged in the psyche." He had gotten over the Vietnam war but when he was renovating a house "It was as if I had uncapped some hidden place in me," "Poem after poem came spilling out.""Attempting to deal with the specter underneath things can be frightening,"
Komunyakaa changed his name, from James Willie Brown, Jr. to Yusef Komunyakaa, a switch that he made for personal and religious reasons. This name was said to be from one of his ancestors in family discussions. His new name was probably of West African derivation he said although he was uncertain. Yusef Komunyakaa is at this time working on more publications and it looks as if he will continue doing so.