Yusef Komunyakaa was born in 1947 in the small city of Bogalusa, Louisiana. Born James William Brown, after his father, he later chose to reclaim his family's name, lost during his grandfather's immigration to America from Trinidad. After earning his diploma from Central High School in Bogalusa, Komunyakaa served his country in the Vietnam War, before attending the University of Colorado and earning his B.A. in 1975.
Having found his passion, he then went on to earn his M.A. from Colorado State University in 1978, studying under poet Bill Tremblay. His first two collections, Dedications and Other Darkhorses (1977) and Lost in the Bonewheel Factory (1979) were self-published. Soon after, Komunyakaa earned an M.F.A. from the University of California at Irvine in 1980.
Komunyakaa started his teaching career at the University of New Orleans as well as in the New Orleans public schools. From 1985 to 1996, he taught in the English Department and Creative Writing Program at Indiana University, Bloomington. Since then, he has served on the English faculty at New York University.
Komunyakaa has published over a dozen collections of his poetry, to date. In 1986, his I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head won the San Francisco Poetry Prize, and his Dien Cai Dau was awarded the Dark Room Poetry Prize in 1988. In 1994, he won a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems.