Kwame Dawes

Color photograph of Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes. Andre Lambertson. Courtesy of Blue Flower Arts. Poetry Foundation.

(1962 - )  Kwame Senu Neville Dawes was born in Ghana to Sophia and Neville Dawes. In 1971 the Dawes family moved to Kingston, Jamaica, where Dawes fell in love with reggae music. 

Kwame Dawes received his B.A. in English from the University of the West Indies at Mona in 1983 and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of New Brunswick in 1992. From 1992 to 2012 he was professor of English and distinguished poet-in-residence at the University of South Carolina. During his tenure, he received numerous awards and in 2009 Dawes was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors. In 2012 he joined the faculty of the University of Nebraska as the Glenna Luschel Professor of English.

Dawes first book, Progeny of Air, was praised for its sense of craft and its ability to examine aspects of memory with a fresh sense of language. Dawes’s second poetry collection, Resisting the Anomie, celebrates his multi-nationality. He quickly followed this up with Prophets (1995), Requiem (1996), Jacko Jacobus (1996), and Shook Foil (1997). Each poetry collection examines the effects of colonialism on Dawes’s fragmented sense of culture and progressively incorporates more and more South Carolina themes. Dawes has published multiple books and short stories as well.  

In 2009 Dawes won an Emmy Award for his work on a television project that documented HIV/AIDS in Jamaica and incorporated poetry, photography, and music. After the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010, Dawes visited Haiti numerous times to write about the lives of people struggling to survive following that natural disaster. 

In 2003 Dawes was appointed director of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative, an organization that promotes poetry in South Carolina. From 2006 to 2012 he was the director of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative’s annual book prize competition and editor of the Initiative’s chapbook series, publishing dozens of South Carolina poets. In 2012 Dawes wrote the introduction to his father’s posthumous collection, Fugue and Other Writings. He directs the Calabash International Literary Festival, a yearly event in Jamaica.

Kwame Dawes’s writing combines the personal, the mythical, the spiritual, the political, and the cultural aspects of his diverse background. He is part of the New Generation of Caribbean Writers influenced by authors as diverse as T.S. Eliot, Bob Marley, and Derek Wolcott.