Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Kwame Dawes' Wisteria: Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country makes its London debut at Poetry International 2006
Kwame Dawes, a poet, playwright, author and professor of English at the University of South Carolina who was born in Ghana in 1962 and grew up in Jamaica composed a series of poems based on interviews conducted with older South Carolinians who had experienced the south before the Civil Rights era. In a moving essay online essay he describes how, upon his arrival in South Carolina after living in New Brunswick, Canada for nearly six years he felt alienated from African Americans because of his African and Caribbean heritage and the suspicion with which he was greeted by other Black southerners. However, a deep sense of kinship with the history, legacies, voices and culture of the south and a strong need to understand and embrace the Black American experience moved him to want to know what it was like for those Blacks who could not enjoy the privileges he routinely experienced as a professor at an almost all-white institution.
I came to see the older Black people who lived and worked in Sumter; as I did all those ancestral voices that had lived ahead of me; as the keepers of my understanding of myself. I wanted to know how they felt, how they responded to segregation and racism and how their feelings and thoughts had evolved since that time. I wanted to understand the daily realities of segregation in the very town in which I lived; the town I seemed to take for granted; I could go anywhere, sit in any park, drink from any fountain, enter any library I chose. What, I wanted to know, was it like not to be able to do that twenty, thirty years ago, and what impact had that had on the present.
Kwame Dawes is also an actor, musician and critic. He is the author of Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius, Natural Mysticism: Towards a New Reggae Aesthetic and edited Wheel and Come Again: An Anthology of Reggae Poetry. Give a standing ovation for Brotha Professor Dawes!