Kevin Young was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on November 8, 1970, although his family's roots lie in Louisiana, where his forefathers were preachers, musicians, and storytellers. His family moved six times before he reached the age of ten. After attending middle school and high school in Kansas, he earned admission to Harvard University, where he studied under the Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. While he was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he joined a group called the Dark Room Collective, which offered support for black artists in various fields. After graduation, Young spent two years at Stanford University, in California, as a Stegner Fellow and then earned a master of fine arts degree from Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island.
Young's first book of poetry, Most Way Home (1995), was selected and published as part of the National Poetry Series and won the Zacharis First Book Award, presented by the literary journal Ploughshares and Emerson College. His second collection, To Repel Ghosts: Five Sides in B Minor, which he musically dubbed a "double album," was inspired by the art of the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, an African American. In association with this collection, Young contributed to an installation called Two Cents, featuring both Basquiat's art and his poetry, which toured across the nation. Young next produced the collections Jelly Roll: A Blues (2003), in which "Chorale" appears, and Black Maria (2005), his poetic interpretation of film noir. Young also has edited Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers (2001), Blues Poems (2003), and John Berryman: Selected Poems (2004) and has written a number of essays. He has served as professor at the University of Georgia, Indiana University, and Emory University.