Ghana native takes helm at Prairie Schooner


September 26th, 2011

Omaha, NE – One of Nebraska’s most prestigious literary journals has a new leader at the helm: a world-renowned, global traveler.

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Kwames Dawes is the new editor-in-chief at the Prairie Schooner, a quarterly literary magazine published through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Dawes was born in Ghana, and grew up in Jamaica, and has lived and worked all around the world.

Kwame Dawes takes the helm at the Prairie Schooner from Hilda Raz, who retired in 2010. (Photo courtesy Poetry Foundation)

“I studied in Canada, I lived for a few years in England eventually moved to South Carolina really for a job,” he said in a phone interview with KVNO News. “Last year, the Prairie Schooner position came up; I became very interested in it. And Prairie Schooner was interested in me, and Nebraska was interested in me, and I became interested in Nebraska, so voila.”

Dawes brings a fresh voice to the Midwestern journal, which was founded 85 years ago, and publishes poetry, fiction, essays and reviews from new and established writers. Dawes said he will work to maintain the journal’s venerable reputation, while building on its web presence to make it more accessible to more people.

“My task as a writer, my task as an advocate of the arts is to remind people of how urgent and essential poetry can be for their lives, and for their existence,” he said. “And I believ e that fully. I believe that poetry enhances the experience of one’s life. I believe it opens up something in us, the capacity to empathize and to feel through the imagination, and I think that is essential for a civilized society.”

Listen to the full interview with Kwame Dawes

Dawes has authored 19 poetry collections, some of which, written in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, were featured on PBS’ NewsHour and in USA Today. He’s also written several works of fiction and produced a number of plays, along with a documentary on HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, which won him an Emmy award. Dawes said he feels slightly uncomfortable with the idea that he is now a gatekeeper for other writers.

“The idea of a gatekeeper is a very troubling one for me,” he said,” in the sense that it presumes that there exists a kind of platonic notion of the perfect poem, or the ideal poem, and therefore there is certainty for who is granted the right to determine what that might be.”

“I struggle with that personally,” he said. “However, I’m trying to make very honest the fact that what I regard as worthy to be in the journal has to do with the vision for the journal, and a vision for who reads the journal, and how their experience with the journal is going to be. And I want that experience to be eclectic on one hand, I want it to have an enlightening attitude about the world, to be open to different voices in the world that exist. And I want it also to be committed to a certain kind of seriousness to the craft and a care for the craft, and I hope that is reflected.”

Dawes takes the helm at the Prairie Schooner from Hilda Raz, who retired in 2010. Raz had led the journal since 1987.

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