Al Young, 1939 – 2021

For over 30 years, Al was a vital member of the Community of Writers, teaching across the programs and serving on the Board of Directors. Many Friday night Follies found Al onstage, often part of the three-man Granite Chief quartet or as a duo with his friend Jim Houston, serenading the audience with such classics as “Hey Good Lookin’” or “Mr. Bojangles.”

 Al, who served as California’s Poet Laureate for three years, wrote over 25 books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.  A graduate of UC Berkeley, he also taught widely, as a Stegner fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford, as well as at universities and conferences across the country and the world. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, among them the Guggenheim, the Richard Wright Award for Excellence in Literature, a Fulbright, NEA Fellowships, PEN-USA awards, and Radio Pacifica’s KPFA Peace Prize.

While Al’s final publication credits include an appearance in The Best American Poetry 2016, edited by Edward Hirsch, as well as our recently published anthology Why to These Rocks: Fifty years of Poems from the Community of Writers, the most impressive credit is certainly the five poems which appear in the Library of America’s African American Poetry: 250 years of Struggle and Song, edited by Kevin Young.  One of those poems, “How Stars Start,” ends like this:

All roads lead back to starts, to where
I started out, to stars: the fiery
beginnings of our ends & means; our
meanness & our meanings. There never
was a night begun in darkness,
nor a single day begun in light.

View Slideshow of Al

Read Berkeleyside‘s Obituary of Al.

Read Andrew Tonkovich‘s 2013 piece on Al Young in the OCWeekly.

In 2018, Al had a debilitating stroke, and for the last two years, Al’s son Michael has managed his father’s affairs and significant health challenges. Amy Tan has observed, “As proof of how beloved Al was, friends donated over $100,000 to help with Al’s care. Michael, who had grown into an amazing son, writer and bookseller, helped us come to know Al as the father who inspired reciprocal devotion.” Folks who still wish to offer Michael support can do so here:

Donate to Al Young Fund

Al Young Memorial Scholarship Fund

We have established a scholarship in Al’s name to help black writers and poets attend our workshops.

Donate to the Al Young Memorial Scholarship

Please indicate “Al Young Memorial Scholarship” in the form. Or send a check to:

Community of Writers – Al Young Memorial Scholarship
PO Box 1416
Nevada City, CA 95959

We send our love and condolences to his son Michael, and to all who loved him.

It’s Pub Day! Our 50th Anniversary Anthology is Available Now!

More than two years ago we set out to create an anthology to celebrate the story of our fifty-year-old summer writing workshop. It has been more work than we could ever have imagined, and an utter joy, but we did it. With help, advice, encouragement, and support from dozens of people and organizations, we can now announce that finally, today is PUBLICATION DAY for Why to These Rocks: Fifty Years of Poems from the Community of Writers from Heyday Books.

As editor Lisa Alvarez writes in her introduction: Why to These Rocks tells part of the story of the Community of Writers through work produced in the valley by both staff and participant poets, using three self-explanatory lenses: Over the Mountains: Poems About Place; Scrupulous Mercy: Poems about the Process; and After Surfacing: Poems Produced by the Process in the Place. Reading them will begin to answer the question posed by Kinnell in his poem “The Old Moon” and paraphrased here: Why to these rocks do we return?”

It speaks to our special community nurtured in this stunning setting, one that has inspired poets worldwide — many of whom developed significant bodies of award-winning work in its creative and generative atmosphere.Contributors include both workshop staff and participants, among them Kazim Ali, Don Mee ChoiLucille CliftonToi DerricotteRita DoveCornelius EadyJuan Felipe HerreraBrenda HillmanCathy Park HongForrest GanderMajor JacksonYusef KomunyakaaHarryette MullenSharon OldsGreg PardloEvie ShockleyAl YoungKevin YoungMatthew Zapruder, a never-before-published poem by founder and former long-time director, Galway Kinnell, and many more. 

We think the book is really handsome with a hard cover, and a lovely woodcut image courtesy of the artist Tom Killion.

Join us as we celebrate our five decades of Poetry.

PS: Heyday Books is offering our buyers a 20% discount use promo code: WTOTFRIENDS

2021 LARB Publishing Workshop

After many years of hosting founder Tom Lutz and other members of the Los Angeles Review of Books staff during the summer workshops, we’ve now begun making institutional collaborations of mutual benefit together.

This summer, in addition to featuring members of LARB’s editorial staff and contributors at our own writer’s workshop in the Virtual Valley, we’re pleased to promote the 2021 LARB Publishing Workshop and further this support with a scholarship for a past fellow to attend the Community of Writer’s workshop this summer.

Applications for the 2021 program close April 15

Apply today and join us from June 27 – July 30 for an intensive dive into the world of publishing with incredible speakers and hands-on training in book and magazine production. LARB Publishing Workshop Fellows learn from 60+ leading industry professionals from all over the country including Nicole Counts (One World), Nicole Chung (Catapult), Evette Dionne (Bitch Media), Dennis Johnson (Melville House), Jennifer 8. Lee (Plympton), Ismail Muhammad (New York Times Magazine), Jyothi Natarajan (The Margins, Asian American Writers’ Workshop), Niko Pfund (Oxford UP), Rebecca Saletan (Riverhead), Joshua Trannen (Duke UP), and many, many more. Our curriculum and program of speakers reflect LARB’s commitment to innovation, inclusivity, and independent literary production.

More Details and to Apply

The 50th Anniversary Poetry Anthology featured in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Read about the anthology in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

“The works featured in this rich new anthology are all the product of the Community of Writers, an annual gathering of poets who hunker down in the wooded beauty of [Olympic Valley] for a week of intensive workshops, writing marathons and readings in the most beautiful setting possible.”

From The San Diego Union-Tribune. Sunday, April 11, 2021

“The anthology celebrates the 50th anniversary of the program with poems from its staff poets, a powerhouse group that includes Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, Galway Kinnell, Sharon Olds and UC San Diego professor Kazim Ali. There are also poems from writers who have participated in the program, a stellar group that includes Cal State San Marcos professor Brandon Cesmat, SDSU professor Blas Falconer and Imperial Valley native Jennifer Givhan.”

Read More at the Union-Tribune
More Details about the Anthology
Order the Book


Quarterly Roundup of Alumni Books

Books published by Alumni Poets and Writers in January – March, 2021.

Congratulations to these Community of Writers Alums and staff members who have published books during the first quarter of 2021!

We are thrilled to share their success with you. You can explore these books by clicking the book cover images below.

Visit our Omnium Gatherum to explore all the recent alumni news.



New Upcoming Readings for our 50th Anniversary Poetry Anthology

We’re delighted to announce two new poetry readings to celebrate the publication of our 50th anniversary poetry anthology, Why to These Rocks: 50 Years of Poetry from the Community of Writers.
• April 11: At the Sierra Poetry Festival online. More details
• April 16: At Skylight Books reading series online. More details.

The Community of Writers celebrates fifty years of its annual poetry workshop with an extraordinary collection by some of the country’s most prominent contemporary poets. “Why To These Rocks: 50 Years of Poetry from the Community of Writers” includes over 140 poems inspired by or written in High Sierra during the annual workshop week. Read more.

Order Book

At the Sierra Poetry Festival!

Sunday, April 11 | 11:30 AM (Pacific)

The Community of Writers will join the Sierra Poetry Festival online for a virtual poetry reading for Heyday’s release of Why to These Rocks: 50 Years of Poetry from the Community of Writers.

Introduced by: Lisa D. Alvarez, the anthology’s editor.

Both teaching staff poets and alumni poets of the storied annual summer Poetry Workshops of the Community of Writers will read from the first section of the anthology, “Poems about Place.” In addition to reading from their own work, each featured poet will also select another poem to read. Although the place where these poems were first written unifies these poems, they are as varied and distinctive in their lyricism, voice, and scope as the watershed of the Sierra itself.

Join Chris Davidson, Christina Hutchins, Patricia Spears Jones, Francisco Márquez, Sharon Olds, Maw Shein Win, and Matthew Zapruder for another celebration of the publication of this extraordinary anthology, as they read and discuss poems first written during the Community of Writers Poetry Workshop.


At SkyLight Books!

Wednesday, April 21 | 6:30 PM (Pacific)

Virtual event on Crowdcast. Registrants will be sent a Crowdcast link upon registration.

The Community of Writers will join SkyLight Books online for a virtual poetry reading for Heyday’s release of Why to These Rocks: 50 Years of Poetry from the Community of Writers. The evening will celebrate fifty years of poetry written during the Poetry Workshop in the High Sierra.

Emcee: Lisa D. Alvarez, the project’s editor.

Join Francisco Aragón, Joan Baranow, Katie Ford, Jay A. Fernandez, Lester Graves Lennon, Michelle Brittan Rosado, Vickie Vértiz, Sholeh Wolpé, and Charles Harper Webb for another celebration of the publication of this extraordinary anthology, as they read and discuss poems first written during the Community of Writers Poetry Workshop.

Order Book