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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Kwame Dawes - Honorary Degree Presentation

Presented by Nicholas Regiacorte, Assistant Professor of English

June 05, 2010

Mr. President: It is my privilege to present Professor Kwame Dawes as a candidate for the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

"The world will flame out like shining from shook foil," wrote the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Faced with this prospect, what might we do? What may one do when his home confronts the surety of fire or flood, his town suffers the encroachment of disease, his world seems steadily consumed by fear and doubt, like the "ooze of oil"? We make spaces, writes Dr. Dawes, "in the old scores to build our homes, temples and dreams." Dr. Dawes is a poet who knows that within his home there is another to be built, within his town another town, in his world another world.

Dr. Dawes was born in Ghana, but spent most of his childhood in Jamaica. He attended Jamaica College and the University of the West Indies at Mona. He studied and taught at the University of New Brunswick, where he earned his PhD. He is currently Professor of English and Director of the Poetry Initiative at the University of South Carolina, where he has taught since 1992, and served for several years as Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing.

His career is distinguished by the remarkable breadth and depth of his artistic life. A literary critic, actor, musician, and prolific playwright, his play One Love, an adaptation of Roger Mais' novel Brotherman, was commissioned by Talawa, one of Britain's leading black theatre companies, and premiered at the Lyric Theatre in London in 2001. Among his most notable pieces of nonfiction is his 2007 book Bob Marley; Lyrical Genius, a personal and critical appraisal of the craft of one of the 20th century's most influential musicians.

In addition to his memoir A Far Cry From Plymouth Rock, a collection of stories and two novel, Dr. Dawes has authored fifteen highly acclaimed volumes of poetry. Among them is his collection Midland, which draws deeply on personal travels and experiences in Africa, the Caribbean, Britain and the American South, and won the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize from Ohio University Press in 2000. Having absorbed the idiom and rhythms of reggae, Dr. Dawes' voice rouses us to dance, as he writes, to "bop to the off-beat," together and unburdened by the world's injuries. It also provokes our sober understanding of the injured. Derived from his love of landscape, the holiness of the everyday, conversations with the living and the dead, the inheritance of literary and cultural traditions of loss & survival, Dr. Dawes' poetry strives to plant fresh language & music in the burnt out furrows of colonialism and terror In this way, his voice gathers many others.

In 2009, Dr. Dawes won an Emmy Award in the category of New Approaches to News & Documentary Programming, for his project "Hope; Living & Loving with HIV in Jamaica." Interspersed with poetry, photographs, music and interviews, the website is a staggering culmination and constitutes, as Dr. Dawes says, a lament, anthem, & alarm. Through his poetry, together with the images of photographer Josh Cogan, we may come to define the disease by those who live with it. We come to know Lascelles Graham, Rosmarie Stone, Annesha Taylor, John Mazouca, and others' remarkable stories of pain and the indefatigable will to live and sing.

In the truest spirit of liberal learning and the essential practice of empathy Dr. Dawes' teaching, scholarship and art pierce what Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz called "conspiracies of silence." In light of this achievement, Mr. President, it is an honor and distinct privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Kwame Dawes.

Presented by Nicholas Regiacorte, Assistant Professor of English.

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