On March 15, 2021, award-winning poet, author, and editor Kwame Dawes, Ph.D., published his first weekly column as editor of “American Life in Poetry,” a free weekly column for newspapers and online publications featuring a poem by a contemporary American poet as part of a partnership between the Poetry Foundation in Chicago and University of Nebraska Lincoln. Dawes also relaunched americanlifeinpoetry.org as a new and engaging website to connect people to poetry through interests, geography and representation.
Dawes carries the column forward after founding editor and curator, Ted Kooser, retired after 15 years as project creator and editor. The first poem featured is “They Dance Through Granelli’s” by Pat Emile — an homage to the recently retired editorial assistant of the project for 15 years. Dawes seeks to maintain, and expand the original vision for the column by continuing to reach readers through local news media outlets, as well as subscribers to the newsletter that publishes weekly on Mondays.
“This column is rooted in the everyday, the broad sense of Americanness that eschews elitism and that embraces a democratic sense of lives that make sense to a vast cross-section of the population,” Dawes said. “I welcome readers who can engage in a wide section of American life, can find poetry that speaks to various aspects of American existence, and that somehow embraces the full range of this America.”
Along with a completely refreshed visual statement, the website features increased browsing and discovery capabilities, new photography and an increased social media presence. Front and center allows users the ability to browse past columns by theme and region.
“The site allows for readers to dig deeper into what they may see in the newsletter or on social media,” Dawes said. “We want readers to stay on the site for a while and get comfortable with poetry, or to find new ways to engage with poems whether that’s through a love of sports or geography.”
Dawes hopes new readers will connect with “American Life in Poetry” by finding columns that are approachable and speak to their interests, particularly for new poetry readers. With over 60 different themes that can be combined while searching, users can find a poem that speaks to gardening and unrequited love from the archive which includes more than 800 poems.
Dawes is the author of 22 books of poetry and numerous other books of fiction, criticism and essays. His collection, Nebraska, was published in 2020. He is George W. Holmes University professor of English, Glenna Luschei Editor of Prarie Schooner at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and also teaches the Pacific MFA Program. He is director of the African Poetry Book Fund and artistic director of the Calabash International Literary Festival. Dawes is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
His awards include an Emmy, the National Press Club Joan Friedenberg Award for Online Journalism, Forward Poetry Prize, Musgrave Silver Medal for his contribution to the arts in Jamaica, the Governor’s Award for service to the arts in South Carolina, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Windham Campbell Prize for Poetry. In 2009, he was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors.