The Quarantine Tapes

The Quarantine Tapes 192: Kevin Young

Episode Summary

“History is meant to combat silence, but I think being a poet, you sometimes need to work with silence. You sometimes need to represent it.”

Episode Notes

On episode 192 of The Quarantine Tapes, Paul Holdengräber is joined by Kevin Young. Kevin is a poet and the new director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. As the museum prepares to reopen this spring and approaches its fifth anniversary later this year, Kevin talks about what the museum means to him, as a museum director and as a poet.


Paul asks Kevin about the collection of poetry he edited, African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song. They unpack the similarities between poetry and museum collections and discuss some of the art and objects on display in the museum. Paul asks Kevin what artifacts he would save from this moment and Kevin talks about some of his influences from his hometown of Topeka before ending the episode with a moving reading of two of Kevin’s poems.

Listen to Kevin Young reciting "Won't You Celebrate With Me," a poem by Lucille Clifton.


Kevin Young is the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. As the nation's largest museum dedicated to telling the African American story, the 19th and newest museum in the Smithsonian complex welcomes 2 million annual visitors and engages an international audience through world-class online programming and digital access to its collections. Young holds a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard College and a Master of Fine Arts from Brown University. He has held a Stegner Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and a NEA fellowship. Director Young is active across the art and cultural community. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was named a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2020.