Nebraska to celebrate writing, leadership of Dawes

· 4 min read

Nebraska to celebrate writing, leadership of Dawes

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The University of Nebraska–Lincoln will celebrate the award-winning writing, global collaborations and service of Kwame Dawes with an art exhibition and series of events from March 16-20.

EDITOR'S NOTE — Due to the threat of the 2019 novel coronavirus, the celebration of Kwame Dawes' writing and outreach has been postponed. New dates will be announced.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln is celebrating the award-winning poetry, global collaborations and unyielding service of Kwame Dawes.

The weeklong retrospective, “Mapmaking: The Poetic Art of Kwame Dawes,” is March 16-20. It will feature three primary events — a collaboration of poetry and music that pays homage to women who lived in the South during the Jim Crow era; a conversation and reading between Dawes and Northwestern University’s acclaimed novelist and poet Chris Abani; and a celebration of Dawes’ collaborations and published works — coupled with a weeklong art exhibition.

Often called the “busiest man in literature,” Dawes serves as Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner, a prestigious literary journal published quarterly at the university. He is also a Chancellor’s Professor of English, having held both roles since joining the university in 2011.

Dawes is the author of 21 books of poetry and numerous other books of fiction, criticism and essays. His most recent publication, “Nebraska,” is an exploration of life as a transplant in the Cornhusker State. The works weave Dawes’ memories, home and artistic invention into an intersection of experiences, from bitter cold winter walks to reflections from his years growing up in Jamaica.

“Nebraska,” published by the University of Nebraska Press, is widely available in bookstores and online.

Poetry Everywhere: "Tornado Child" by Kwame Dawes
Video: Poetry Everywhere, "Tornado Child" by Kwame Dawes

In recent years, Dawes has maintained his prolific publication record and teaching schedule while earning national recognition and serving as a university leader. His most recent honors including the Windham-Campbell Poetry — one of the world’s most lucrative literary prizes, which recognizes exceptional English language writers — and the University of Nebraska system’s Outstanding Research and Creative Activity award. Dawes also led the university’s successful national search for its first vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion; served on the search committee that selected Ted Carter to serve as the NU system’s president; and delivered the December 2019 undergraduate commencement address.

Through his career, Dawes has collaborated with musicians and artist to create a series of performances based on his poetry. The works include “Wisteria: Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country,” which is the first event in the Nebraska celebration.

“Wisteria” is a collaborative narrative and musical developed by Dawes and Kevin Simmonds, an award-winning composer. The performance — the Nebraska premiere of the work — pays homage to the voices of women who lived during the era of Jim Crow America.

The performance grew from interviews Dawes conducted with mothers and grandmothers of teens he worked with in South Carolina. It will play at 7 p.m. March 18 at the Sheldon Museum of Art’s Ethel S. Abbott Auditorium. Admission is free and RSVP is required. A reception will follow the performance.

Kwame Dawes

Other events in the weeklong celebration are listed below. While all events are free, an RSVP is required.

  • “Punta del Burro” art exhibition, March 16-20, Van Brunt Visitors Center — The exhibition features artworks inspired by Dawes’ book “Punta del Burro.” The works were created by Jon Gregg.

  • “The Intersection of Memory, Home and Artistic Invention: Conversation and Readings with Chris Abani, 7 p.m., March 19, Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, Joseph H. Cooper Theater — Dawes and Abani will take the stage for a conversation that celebrates the premiere of the publication of “Nebraska.” A reception will follow.

  • “Exhibition and Celebration of the Collaborations and Works of Kwame Dawes,” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., March 20, Van Brunt Visitors Center — A culmination of the weeklong art exhibition inspired by Dawes’ “Punta del Burro.” The event will feature the collaborative works of Dawes, including his work as editor of Prairie Schooner; directorship of the African Poetry Book Fund and collaboration with the University of Nebraska Press; and his many projects as an editor and literary activist. Remarks will be at noon.

Learn more about Dawes and the retrospective events.