Sadiyah Ali on Kwame Dawes


As a follow-up to our previous post Kwame Dawes named fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, here is an article on the poet and professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln by Sadiyah Ali (Daily Nebraskan).

Kwame Dawes does not play around with poetry. The 56-year-old poet, editor-in-chief and professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been writing since he was 17, and enjoys writing poetry simply for the sake of it.

Over the course of his career, Dawes has gone from a young writer to a heavily published poet and editor, and has been called a literary activist. “When I write, I am also remembering the poems I have read and in this act, I am being drawn back to the feeling of delight, discovery and insight that reading poems has given me over the years,” he said.

Dawes, who spent most of his childhood and early adulthood in Jamaica, was recently elected as an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. This is a society for writers and literary greats in British literature that has been around for about two centuries.

His most recent poetry collection, “City of Bones: A Testament,” is a suite of poems that incorporates the works of African-American playwright August Wilson. The work uses themes from jazz and reggae music, which are genres created and played originally by black and African-American people. “Wilson rooted his aesthetics in black culture and at heart of this was the music of African Americans — especially the blues, and then jazz,” Dawes said. “I have rooted my poetics in another great African diasporic music tradition: reggae music.”

Dawes said he often works with the effects of colonization on black and African-American literature, and he attempts to give insight and awareness about those works that have been deemed less valuable than other, imperialistic. He remembered a time when he was younger and was encouraged to apply for the Rhodes scholarship by his father. Dawes resisted because he said he believed the namesake and financer of the scholarship was a “brutal racist, colonialist and industrialist.” His father responded to Dawes’ hesitancy saying that the money behind Rhodes was made through the efforts of black and African-American people, and therefore, “It is our money.”

“Which is pretty compelling, if you ask me,” Dawes said. “Well, I did not get it — their spies must have gotten word of my ingratitude. But I will never forget that answer.”

Dawes’ parents introduced him to the literary world by emphasizing storytelling, reading and writing. He said his father, a university professor who did not believe in television, allowed the children in the house to read whatever they wanted. Dawes said he would pick out books from his father’s study, and most formative for him were books of Caribbean and African literature. “Reading the work of writers from the world I lived in taught me just how important books were …  in making real our world,” he said.

[. . .] He said he is writing every day, and people shouldn’t underestimate the hyperbole. “Anyone who knows [me] knows that [I am] dead serious,” Dawes said.

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for sharing this link. For original article, see]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s