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Poet focuses on beauty of language, creation of story

Every year, the University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series brings in writers who share their unique perspectives of the world, and Kwame Dawes, the 100th writer, is no exception.

Kwame Dawes

Dawes, a poet and professor of English at the University of Nebraska, will be the first presenter in the fall 2017 UHV/ABR Reading Series. His reading will be at noon Sept. 28 in the UHV Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The presentation is free and open to the public.

“The reading series has been an outstanding event for more than 10 years,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences, and ABR editor and publisher. “It is exciting to reach this milestone. I am looking forward to experiencing the writing of Kwame Dawes and the deeply personal connection he brings to his craft.”

The series got underway on Sept. 13, 2006, with a reading by novelist Graciela Limon. Legendary writer Robert Coover gave the 50th reading in March 2012, and Nan Cuba, founder and executive director emeritus of the nonprofit literary center Gemini Ink in San Antonio, was the 75th author to visit in November 2014.

Founded in 1977 by novelist Ronald Sukenick, American Book Review was designed to offer a unique model for reviewing books, one edited by writers themselves.

In 2006, Di Leo joined Charles Harris as ABR co-editors and moved operations to UHV. The next year, Di Leo became the sole editor and publisher.

Jeffrey Di Leo

In 2016, the ABR Reading Series was presented with the Regents’ Academic Excellence Award by the UH System Board of Regents. The award recognizes UH System institutions’ programs and initiatives that exemplify excellence in teaching, research and public service.

Dawes’ poems typically don’t come from a pre-determined topic. They develop from the starting point of a basic impulse to write.

“I don’t necessarily know what subject I will be writing about,” Dawes said. “As I work, all the things that have accumulated in my mind begin to become accessible, and the end result often is as much a revelation to me as it is to an outsider.”

Dawes always has enjoyed literature, music and art. He grew up in a household where creativity was a typical part of life, so having a life devoted in part to the pursuit of art never seemed impossible. His father was a writer, and his mother is an artist. It was normal to have writers and artists around.

“At some point, I became interested in producing work of my own,” he said. “I started emulating people whose work had meaning for me. I tried my hand at art and music, but I was better at writing.”

Dawes has published 21 books of poetry as well as several essays and books of fiction and nonfiction. The subjects he covers encompass a wide variety, but they often have some connection or intellectual response to what is happening in the present.

“I am interested in people, but I’m as much interested in the act of creating,” Dawes said. “I live with an acute fascination with telling stories and how the use of language can drive communication past the basic subject. I’ve written poems about Hulu, HBO, Netflix, the sky, health issues and any number of topics, and the work’s craft and skill makes those things beautiful and powerful.”

When he shares his poetry at UHV, he hopes the community will be reminded of what poetry can achieve.

“Every time I do a reading, I hope people will be able to meet and work with me over the words,” Dawes said. “I want people to be moved intellectually and spiritually. They can encounter a whole world inside another person and open it up to share.”

Other writers scheduled for the fall UHV/ABR Reading Series are:

Ru Freeman, Oct. 26 (Victoria) and Oct. 27 (Katy) – Freeman is the author of the novels “A Disobedient Girl” and “On Sal Mal Lane,” a New York Times Editor’s Choice Book. Both novels have been translated into several languages. She is the editor of the ground-breaking anthology “Extraordinary Rendition: American Writers on Palestine.” Her writing has appeared in the UK Guardian, The New York Times and the Boston Globe. She is the 2014 winner of the Sister Mariella Gable Award for Fiction and won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction by an American Woman.

Frederick Luis Aldama, Nov. 16 – Aldama has authored more than 30 books, including the recent “Long Stories Cut Short: Fictions from the Borderlands.” In his teaching and publishing, he seeks to advance, promote and encourage the narrative and graphic arts, especially those by and about Latinos. Aldama has created pipelines for Latinos in education, with a special interest in the humanities and storytelling arts. As an Ohio State University professor, he directs a Latino outreach program called LASER. The program won the 2015 White House Bright Spot for Higher Education Award.

Clay Reynolds, Dec. 6 – Reynolds is a scholar, teacher and writer. He is the director of creative writing, and teaches creative writing and modern literature at the University of Texas at Dallas. Reynolds writes fiction and nonfiction, as well as scholarship, book criticism and journalistic essays and articles. His novels, “Franklin’s Crossing” and “Monuments,” both won the Violet Crown Award from the Writers’ League of Texas. He is a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow and has received grants from the Texas Commission on the Arts.

ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV in 2006 and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.

For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call the ABR office at 361-570-4101 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.