A Pacific University Instructor Is Jamaica’s New Poet Laureate

Kwame Dawes, who teaches in PU’s graduate writing program, was awarded the three-year post that began in spring.

Kwame Dawes, Poet Laureate of Jamaica. (Courtesy of Blake Timm.)

Kwame Dawes, an acclaimed poet, filmmaker, and faculty member of Pacific University’s Masters of Fine Arts in Writing program, has added another prestigious title to his long list of multihyphenates.

Dawes, 61, was appointed poet laureate of Jamaica in April. Dawes was selected through a public nomination process open to all naturalized or native Jamaicans with at least three published collections of poetry. He was chosen by a committee from the National Library of Jamaica. Olivia “Babsy” Grange, Jamaica’s minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, announced Dawes’ selection in April. The Jamaica Observer first reported Dawes’ award.

“It means a lot to be recognized by your own, by people who call you your own people,” Dawes said in a press release.

Dawes was born in July 1962, one month before Jamaica won its independence from England. He immigrated to Jamaica from Ghana in 1971 with his family. As Dawes and his new home established their identities, he formed the foundation of his beliefs around faith, identity, sexuality, politics, family and social structure, which are common themes in his work.

As poet laureate, Dawes will develop programming to support the reading, writing and promotion of Jamaican poetry, and will visit the country a minimum of four times during his three year tenure. Dawes’ travel plans already include visiting Forest Grove’s private college from his full-time position at the University of Nebraska. The Jamaican government also awarded Dawes the Order of Distinction, Commander Class, in 2022.

Dawes previously served as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. His accolades include a Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, a Musgrave Silver Medal and a Windham-Campbell Prize for his poetry, as well as an Emmy for Live Love Hope (2009), his documentary on Jamaicans living with HIV. Dawes’ newest volume of poems, Sturge Town: Poems (W.W. Norton, 160 pages, $26.99), will be published in the United States in August, and is available for pre-order through Powell’s City of Books and other retailers.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Kwame Dawes lives in Washington County. It has been updated to reflect that Dawes resides in Nebraska. Willamette Week regrets the error.

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