Poet Kwame Dawes, April 2012

In celebration of National Poetry Month, poet Kwame Dawes spoke about his collaborative work with photographers, composers and musicians in Haiti and Jamaica at a community meeting on April 11, 2012. He also held a Q&A session with creative writing majors and gave a poetry reading in the Writing House. While at Interlochen, Dawes learned he had received a Guggenheim Fellowship for poetry.

Born in Ghana in 1962, Kwame Dawes spent most of his childhood and early adult life in Jamaica. He is a writer of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and plays. As a poet, he is profoundly influenced by the rhythms and textures of that lush place. Of his sixteen collections of poetry, his most recent titles include WheelsBack of Mount PeaceHope's Hospice; Impossible Flying; and Gomer's SongHope’s Hospice offers a moving glimpse into the support centers and hospice outside of Montego Bay and the many lives that have been lost to HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. Culled from open dialogue with sufferers and those who care for them, and coupled with evocative photographs, AIDS becomes a channel for universal dramas, archetypal voices, stoicism, despair, and deeply human deceptions. In September 2009, Dawes won an Emmy for New Approaches to News and Documentary for LiveHopeLove.com, an interactive site based on Kwame Dawes's Pulitzer Center project, HOPE: Living and loving with AIDS in Jamaica. Dawes is also deeply influenced by his “spiritual, intellectual, and emotional engagement with reggae music.” His book "Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius" remains the most authoritative study of the lyrics of Bob Marley. His essays have appeared in numerous journals including Bomb Magazine, Granta, Essence, and Double Take Magazine. Dawes is also an actor and producer, an accomplished storyteller and broadcaster, and was the lead singer in Ujamaa, a reggae band. To date, 15 of his plays have been produced, most recently his musical, One Love, at the Lyric Hammersmith in London. Dawes is currently the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska, where he is a Chancellor's Professor of English, a faculty member of Cave Canem, and a teacher in the Pacific MFA Program in Oregon. 

Kwame was a particular delight to meet at Interlochen. His "Bob Marley" inspired rhythm and exotic references to Jamaica showed me a place for balance in my own writing since I'm always looking to incorporate a taste of my Caribbean home. Kwame has given me a voice to aspire to and build from.

-Alexandra Stasiuk, 10th grade creative writing major, Cayman Islands

Getting the opportunity to hear Kwame Dawes speak was eye-opening to me as a young writer. Having the chance to ask questions and hear him ruminate aloud gave me new perspectives I would have otherwise never known, like the way he likes to write his poetry as though he's thinking out loud, or when he pointed out that the poem he'd written about his brother inevitably became a poem about himself.

-Melissa Reese, 12th grade creative writing major, Chino Hills, CA

Kwame Dawes helped me realize that poetry really can help those in need. It may not bring food or water but poetry connects us, tells the real human truth.

-Allic Rennie, 12th grade creative writing major, Pinckney, MI