The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has tapped Kevin Young, the New Yorker’s poetry editor and director of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, to succeed founding director Lonnie Bunch III.
Young, who is 49, will join the Smithsonian institution in January. He will depart the Schomburg Center after four years on the job, but retain his position at the New Yorker.
The African American Museum, which opened in 2016, was being run by interim director Spencer Crew after Bunch was appointed Smithsonian secretary last spring, becoming the first Black American to lead the national museums.
“I am both unbelievably happy that somebody of his caliber is going to carry on, and a little sad. I can’t go back,” Bunch, who selected Young as his successor, told the Washington Post.
The author of 11 books of poetry, Young takes the helm of the museum at a time of heightened racial tensions in the US and after a summer of nationwide protests against police violence.
The museum is “definitely at the center of that conversation. What I am struck with is how the museum tells the story of the long civil rights struggle, which didn’t start this summer, and provides that context,” Young told the New York Times. “People want to understand how we got there.”
To that end, the museum launched Talking About Race, an online portal designed to help facilitate difficult conversations about race, in June. Curators have also been working to document the events of 2020 through a rapid-response collecting initiative that acquires artifacts from and images of the Black Lives Matter movement as it unfolds.
At the Schomburg, Young raised $10 million in gifts and founded a literary festival. With the institution shut down due to the global health crisis, he put together a 95-book “Black Liberation Reading List” and staged accompanying programming. Previously, Young taught for 11 years at Emory University, and was curator of its poetry library.