By Julie Barber
As Black History Month comes to an end, I’m reminiscing about some of my favorite African-American writers and figures, such as Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As I think of these remarkable people, I wonder how enriching it would be to meet a great African-American author or poet in person. Plot twist! On March 6, we’re getting the honor of meeting Ghanaian-American author, poet, actor, editor, and musician Kwame Dawes! For the unveiling of the 2019 issue of The Mochila Review, Kwame Dawes and the Missouri Western Dance Team will be celebrating with us with a poetry reading combined with a dance performance.
As if our advisor, Dr. Marianne Kunkel, didn’t already know enough extraordinary people, she has known Dawes for several years and worked as his managing editor at the University of Nebraska’s literary magazine, Prairie Schooner. Not only is Dawes a decorated scholar and professor, he’s also an astounding writer. Some of his literary works include Progeny of Air, City of Bones: A Testament, She’s Gone, and Tornado Child. Dawes’ talents even extend to music. He and writer/composer Kevin Simmonds collaborated and orchestrated Wisteria: Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country, a musical series of poems about the lives of African-American women in South Carolina.
Poetry, novels, music—is there nothing Dawes doesn’t have a talent for? Well, considering that he’s also an Emmy Award winner, let’s just assume the answer is no. In 2009, he was awarded an Emmy in the category of New Approaches to News & Documentary Programming. Dawes’ project was a documentary centered around the issue of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. Unlike typical documentaries, Dawes’ was interspersed with his poetry, Andre Lambertson’s photography, and Kevin Simmonds’s music. Over the years, Dawes has won awards such as the Forward Prize for Poetry, the Musgrave Silver Medal for contribution to the Arts in Jamaica, the Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Award and, just last year, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Knowing that such a gifted, extraordinary artist is coming to Missouri Western is nearly unbelievable! But such are the perks of having a cooler-than-all-of-us advisor. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better send-off for Black History Month.
Photo of Kwame Dawes by Don J. Usner