Not surprisingly, the accolades have continued to roll in for poet, editor, author, playwright and Chancellor’s Professor of English Kwame Dawes since arriving at UNL in 2011.
The most impressive, arguably, his John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, was awarded last spring. He was among 181 scholars, artists and scientists selected for the prestigious honor. It will support his work on the poem cycle, “August: A Quintet,” based on the work of August Wilson, an American playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner whose work illustrated the African-American experience in the 20th century.
Dawes, whose long list of honors over his career includes an Emmy Award and more recently a Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Award, called the Guggenheim a “tremendous honor.”
He has excelled as Glenna Luschei Editor of the Prairie Schooner, UNL’s international quarterly literary journal. Under his leadership, the journal has made a significant push to attract more international submissions, while expanding readership and raising its reputation around the globe. The journal boasts a revamped website, a popular podcast, an active blog as well as exciting new projects like “Fusion,” a multimedia collaboration involving poets and artists from as far afield as Botswana, Australia and the Balkans.
Dawes said he also has relished his time spent advising graduate students and directing their theses, and teaching African-American literature and creative writing courses for undergraduate and graduate students. It’s invigorating, he said.
“I really find that undergrads are the pulse of the university,” he said. “The most important excitement about teaching is the sense that the student is discovering something that they didn’t know before.”
Dawes has brought an expansive global perspective to the English Department, said Susan Belasco, department chair.
“With his international background and his rich African and Caribbean heritage, he is not only transforming Prairie Schooner, but also helping us think about literature and writing in new ways,” she said. “His remarkable talents as poet, editor, writer, teacher, and critic are extraordinary and all of us are benefitting from his thoughtful presence in our community. He is truly an Academic Star.”
Looking ahead, Dawes is keeping his plate full.
He’s working on an anthology of Haitian poetry written after the 2010 earthquake. He also has a forthcoming book, “Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems.” (Copper Canyon Press)
He’s excited about the recent establishment of the African Poetry Book Series. Beginning in 2014, the series will release four books by African poets each year with the help of the University of Nebraska Press and the Amalion Press in Senegal.
Continuing to build on Prairie Schooner’s reputation and uphold its tradition also remains a priority. He and Marianne Kunkel, managing editor of Prairie Schooner, have plans to travel the state this winter to visit libraries, talk about the journal and learn more about what’s going on with writing in Nebraska. He said he’s grateful to work with someone as gifted as Kunkel, whom he shares the journal’s recent success with and credits for helping make his transition smooth and productive.
Although he could easily point to one of his many awards, his publications or other work with the university, Dawes’ attention turns to something different when asked what he deems his biggest accomplishment since coming to UNL. He points to his family who made the trip with him from South Carolina, where they had lived since the early 1990s.
“It has to do with my three kids, who really aren’t kids anymore, and my wife, Lorna,” he said. “About three months into this journey, into this new landscape and this new place, saying to me, ‘This was a good move.’”
Dawes agrees with his family.
“I have found UNL to be a welcoming and supportive environment,” he said. “I think I’m in a very good place.”
Release Date: November 2012