Launched in 2022, The Gordon Parks Foundation's Genevieve Young Fellowship in Writing awards one annual $25,000 fellowship to a writer working in a variety of fields including art history, journalism, and literature. The fellowship supports the research, development, and publication of a new project.
The fellowship pays tribute to Genevieve Young (1930–2020), a legendary book editor who was also Gordon Parks's former wife and estate executor. She had a role in editing Parks’s first book, The Learning Tree, published in 1963. Young was also instrumental in the creation and development of the Gordon Parks Foundation beginning in 2006, and served on the Foundation’s board from 2006–20. Writing in particular was central to Parks’s work, a means of expression that broadened the reach and impact of his perspective. And like photography, the printed page offered endless opportunities for exploration and ingenuity, revealed through his work as a journalist, novelist, poet, and screenwriter.
Please note: Applications for fellowships are accepted by invitation only.
ABOUT GENEVIEVE YOUNG (1930–2020)
As a legendary editor, teacher, ballroom dancer, and cultural trailblazer, Genevieve “Gene” Young exemplified bravery, grace, elegance, and generosity. Gene was instrumental in building the Gordon Parks Foundation from the ground up, bringing to the organization her decades of experience and, most significantly, her devotion to her lifelong passions—writing, teaching, and the arts. As an editor, Gene was known as tough and demanding—even to Gordon Parks, whose first book, The Learning Tree (1963), was among the earliest editorial projects she had the opportunity to work on. Gene was an uncompromising editor and professional, but those who knew her well also knew her as an advocate, philanthropist, and humanitarian, who always found a bit of unexpected humor in everything she encountered.
Gene was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1930, the oldest of three daughters of Chinese parents, Clarence Kuangson Young and Juliana Young Koo. She spent her childhood following her father, a Chinese diplomat, to posts throughout Europe and Asia. At age eleven, while he served as Chinese consul general in Manila during World War II, Japanese officials who had occupied the Philippines jailed him. In 1942, the family received a death notice from his captors—a package containing his photograph, hair clippings, and glasses. In the period after her father’s execution, Gene’s family survived three years of internment in Manila during the Japanese occupation. Gene grew up an avid, passionate reader—she spoke about having spent her time in internment reading American books, recalling, “That was when my real life started.”
As American troops prepared to invade in 1945, Gene’s family of four fled to the United States and settled on the East Coast. Her mother landed a job at the United Nations, and Gene embraced and adapted quickly to the family’s new home. She received a scholarship to Abbot Academy, an all-girls’ school in Andover, Massachusetts (now merged into Phillips Academy Andover), and went on to attend Wellesley College, where she graduated with honors in 1952. Gene’s childhood experiences, rather than something to overcome, became the fuel that fed her desire to break boundaries and give back.
In 1952, Gene entered the publishing world with a spirit of determination and dedication that marked her entire life. She began as a stenographer at Harper & Brothers (later Harper & Row) and rose through the ranks to be named managing editor by 1966. In the decades that followed, she became a publishing powerhouse: by 1971 she was a vice president at J. B. Lippincott; in 1977 she became a senior editor at Little, Brown; in 1985, she was editor in chief at the Literary Guild of America; and in 1988 she was an editorial director and vice president at Bantam Books. Throughout those decades she was responsible for the publication of bestselling books such as Erich Segal’s Love Story and Nancy Milford’s biography Zelda (both 1970). Gene worked with a wide range of notable authors, including Stephen Birmingham, Helene Hanff, Henry Kissinger, Ira Levin, Herman Wouk, and Gordon Parks, whom she married in 1973.
Even after she retired from publishing in the early 1990s, Gene eagerly undertook new projects and pursuits with her characteristic unwavering passion. She was a literacy tutor, served as president of the Youth Counseling League from 1989 to 1996, and was an adjunct professor at the Center for Publishing at New York University. She supported an array of educational and arts organizations, including the Gordon Parks Foundation, where she served on the board from 2006 to 2020, and FJK Dance company (dance being another of her lifelong loves). She took ballroom dancing lessons several times a week and in 2017 was a finalist in the Fred Astaire World Championships.
A lifelong model of strength and perseverance, Gene always carried herself with grace and humility. In July 2019, Gene attended the opening of a Gordon Parks exhibition at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It was the first time that Gene had the opportunity to meet Flávio da Silva, the subject of one of Parks’s best-known and longest-running projects, about about life in Rio’s favelas, as seen through one family. Gene collaborated closely with Parks on the book version of that project, but she had never met Flávio. On that evening in 2019, on the museum campus overlooking Los Angeles, she and Flávio embraced as if they had always known each other. Gene had no intention of ever slowing down, and we can only hope to carry forward her generous spirit and inspirational legacy.