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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Am 3432

Al Young papers


Personal and professional papers of African American poet, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and teacher, Al Young.


  • Creation: circa 1950-2020


Condition Description

Some materials show evidence of mold and have been removed for assessment.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

This collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff for retrieval policies and times.

Restricted: unprocessed; consult curatorial staff (audiovisual and born-digital material).


80 linear feet (80 boxes and 1 volume)

Collection includes drafts for Young's novels, poetry, prose, anthologies, and scripts; correspondence including photocopies of Young's outgoing letters; photographs by Young and others; notebooks and notepads; diaries; audiovisual recordings including Young’s appearances on radio shows; material from teaching and conferences; flyers and posters advertising his appearances as a poet and folk singer; personal ephemera; juvenilia; born-digital equipment and media; and clippings documenting his life and career.

Biographical / Historical

Albert James Young (1939 May 31–2021 April 17) was an African American poet, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and professor.

Young was born in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He spent his early years in the segregated south where he attended the Kingston School for the Colored. The family later moved to Detroit; Young began publishing poems and articles in his teens. From 1957 to 1961, Young attended the University of Michigan, where he co-edited Generation, the campus literary magazine. He dropped out and moved to the West Coast, finally settling in Berkeley (Calif.).

Before returning to school, Young worked a variety of jobs, including as a photographer, warehouseman, clerk-typist, interviewer for the California Department of Employment, and yard clerk for the Southern Pacific Railroad. He also performed as a singer and guitarist of folk songs and blues; he later gave up performing professionally.

Young graduated from UC Berkeley in 1969 and began a lifelong career as an instructor of writing, poetry and American literature. He taught all around the country, including appointments at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis and many other colleges. He was a longtime poetry instructor at the Community of Writers, a summer workshop in what was then known as Squaw Valley (now Olympic Valley) in Lake Tahoe.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California appointed Young the state poet laureate in 2005.

Young was married to technical writer and editor Arline June Young (née Belch) from 1963 until her death in 2016. The couple had one child, a son named Michael. After living in Palo Alto from 1969 to 1999, in 2000 Young returned to Berkeley, where he continued to freelance.

In February 2019, Young suffered a stroke. He died of complications of the stroke on April 17, 2021, in Concord, California, aged 81.

(Source: Frances Dinkelspiel, "Remembering Al Young, a California poet laureate, musician, teacher" in Berkeleyside, 2021 April 21, accessed 2023 April 16,


Collection is in original order.

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2023M-98. Purchased from Michael Young with funds from the Amy Lowell Trust, the Bayard Livingston and Kate Gray Kilgour Fund, and the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, 2023 February 9.

Processing Information

This collection was processed to a basic level with minimal rehousing, organization, and preservation. (Aurora Charlow, Max Goldberg, Melanie Wisner, 2023)

Processing Information

Titles of works by Al Young are presented here as they were known by the author; one is offensive and may cause harm to some researchers, but it is retained as representative of Young's thinking as a member of the oppressed group.

Young, Al, 1939-2021. Al Young papers, circa 1950-2020 (MS Am 3432): Guide
Houghton Library, Harvard University
2023 March 31
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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