The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Writer-in-residence Kwame Dawes reflects on a life of poetry

Ivy Rose Ball
Kwame Dawes performed poetry readings and spoke to students and faculty about his literary life.

Kwame Dawes stood at the podium of Mississippi State University’s Taylor Auditorium, stroking his beard as he read a poem about his memories tied to purple flowers to an audience of over 60 students, professors and others.

The poem, “Purple,” is a piece that Dawes wrote about his relationship with one of his daughters. “Purple” falls among many poems read at the Institute for the Humanities’ Writer-in-Residence poetry reading last Thursday, where Dawes shared his art and advice.

As this year’s writer-in-residence, Dawes spent a week on the Mississippi State University campus meeting students, hosting a workshop and sharing his thoughts on poetry with students. His stay concluded with the reading in Taylor Auditorium where students, faculty and Starkville residents gathered to listen to his words.

James Durr, a junior English major, was among the audience’s front row and took notes as the reading went on. While originally meant to satisfy a course assignment, these notes now mean more to Durr.

“I learned that I liked poetry. I didn’t think I did, but I do,” Durr said. “I learned about this writer’s wonderful life. I think he has something good to provide, and I learned that I want to write more.”

Dawes was born in Ghana and grew up both there and in Jamaica, where his writing journey began. According to Dawes, his father opted to buy him and his siblings books rather than a television. From this exposure to reading, he turned to writing. He wrote many things ranging from his own stories and poems to letters to pen pals. He became a playwright in his late 20s, and in other moments of his life he was a journalist, a musician and an actor. Now, he is an editor, professor and continues to write poetry.

Dawes reflected on some of these moments in his life through readings of poems from his books “Nebraska: Poems” and “Sturge Town: Poems.” Many of the poems reflect on his time working as a professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, while other poems take a more heartfelt approach.

He leaned back, holding onto a tablet with both hands. Dawes read a poem about the loss of a colleague, who was more like a friend. The poem is about Jack Doyle, a man Dawes knew when he worked at the University of South Carolina. Doyle was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at an early age, and Dawes poured that experience into his poetry.

Another poem from his upcoming book “Sturge Town: Poems” tells of how he cares for his two daughters. According to Dawes, his children would mark each time he wrote a poem about them, and a number of these works were read that night in Starkville.

Dawes made his way to Starkville through a personal connection. Saddiq Dzukogi, assistant professor of English at MSU, is a former pupil of Dawes. He suggested that the Institute of the Humanities invite his former teacher as their guest of honor.

“As a poet I adore [Dawes]. He is the magnificent Kwame, the poet that continues to show me the way, continues to show us the way,” Dzukogi said in his introduction speech. “And as his student and mentee, he is sir — a teacher that has earned my absolute trust.”

Dzukogi met Dawes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Dawes was Dzukogi’s teacher as he worked to earn his doctorate. Now, Dawes acts as an editor, a mentor and a father figure for Dzukogi.

“I am happy that he’s here, you know, to have him exposed to the wonderful community that is Mississippi State,” Dzukogi said.

After the reading, the Institute for the Humanities showed Dawes their appreciation in Bulldog fashion: giving the gift of a cowbell. Dawes received his fresh bell and rang it in slow, wide gestures as the audience cheered. The prolonged clangs of the bell sounded throughout the auditorium.

“It’s a nice gesture. I don’t know when I’ll be using it,” Dawes said.

About the Contributor
Megan Gordon
Megan Gordon, Former Life & Entertainment Editor
Megan Gordon served as the Life & Entertainment Editor from 2023 to 2024.
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