A literary parade

April 7, 2011

At 10:15 a.m. on Thursday, March 24, a hefty group of Creative Writing majors gathered on the sidewalk on the north side of Old Main. Some were decorated with costumes, such as feather boas, others were armed with guitars and tambourines. Professor of English Robin Metz stood on the top step of Old Main, wearing a feathered mask and blowing into a five-foot long horn to get everyone’s attention.

After introducing Kwame Dawes, the poet whose three-day residency at Knox was the reason for the parade, the group took off on their spring parade to Carl Sandburg’s birthplace. There, Dawes talked to students about their future as writers, the importance of empathy and how to determine where home is.

“I was always home, but never home,” Dawes said. Originally from Ghana, Dawes has lived in Jamaica and now teaches at the University of South Carolina.

“Being in one place, finding roots there, but also feeling that I’m from elsewhere,” Dawes said, was useful to him as a writer. “There’s a distance that I think writing needs.”

After students took turns reading poems by Sandburg and Dawes, and Dawes gave students a glimpse of his musical talent on the guitar, he spoke about the ability to connect to others through art.

He encouraged students to realize that their lives are not interesting enough to become the center of their writing, and that the purpose of writing should not be to duplicate our lives.

To Dawes, something crucial to writing is, “the capacity to empathize … but to control that feeling.”

An example he gave from when he was young was his ability to write about the experience of getting beat up.

“By telling the story of getting beat up, I win,” Dawes said, “and that’s powerful.”

Throughout the rest of his residency, he gave a lecture in Kresge Recital Hall and a poetry reading to an entirely packed Red Room in Seymour Library. His visit was the second attempt to draw Dawes to campus after weather delays last year caused him to cancel his trip.

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