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These are poems of beauty and insight, that pay homage to the women who told

Dawes their stories, and that, at the same time, find a path beyond

these specific narratives to something embracingly human.



Books by Kwame Dawes

She's Gone / Wisteria, Twilight Songs / I Saw Your Face / Bob Marley Impossible Flying /  Midland  / Natural Mysticism

Twenty: South Carolina Poetry Fellows / A Far Cry from Plymouth Rock / A Place to Hide Wheel and Come Again

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Wisteria, Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country

By Kwame Dawes


Wisteria, Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country was published by Red Hen Press in January 2006. The poems are products of Kwame Dawes' life in Sumter, a reflection of the profound impact that the stories he was told by so many older folks in the community, have had on his imagination and on his life. Wisteria is a Sumter book and should be launched in Sumter, celebrated and shared in Sumter.

In Wisteria Kwame Dawes finds poignant meaning in the landscape and history of Sumter, a small town in central South Carolina. Here the voices of women who lived through most of the twentieth century-teachers, beauticians, seamstresses, domestic workers and farming folk-unfold with the raw honesty of people who have waited for a long time to finally speak their mind. The poems move with the narrative force of stories long repeated but told with fresh emotion each time, with the lyrical depth of a blues threnody or a Negro spiritual, and with the flame and shock of a prophet forced to speak the hardest truths.

These are poems of beauty and insight, that pay homage to the women who told Dawes their stories, and that, at the same time, find a path beyond these specific narratives to something embracingly human. Few poets have managed to enter the horror of Jim Crow America with the fresh insight and sharply honed detail that we see in Dawes's writing. With all good Southern songs of spiritual and emotional truth, Dawes understands that redemption is essential and he finds it in the pure music of his art. Dawes, the Ghanaian-born, Jamaican poet is not an interloper here, but a man who reminds us of the power of the most human and civilizing gift of empathy and the shared memory of the Middle Passage and its aftermath across the black Diaspora. These are essential poems.

Wisteria is Kwame Dawes's eleventh collection of verse since his first book, Progeny of Air, won the Forward Poetry Prize in 1994. Dawes is the Distinguished Poet-in-Residence at the University of South Carolina where he is Director of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative and The University of South Carolina Arts Institute. Dawes is Programming Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival.

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Dawes' 'Wisteria,' based in Sumter, reveals realities, humanity

The distinguished poet Dr. Kwame Dawes has chosen Sumter for the official launch of his latest book, Wisteria, Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country. The poems in the book were inspired by Dawes' relationships with seven elderly Sumter residents during the past decade.

The public is invited to Sunday's multimedia presentation at the South Sumter Resource Center at 5 p.m., when Dawes will be joined by composer Kevin Simmonds, several vocalists and a chamber group of talented musicians. Simmonds has selected several poems from "Wisteria" and set them to music, and Dawes will read his poems, which Simmonds said, "... have so much music already."

Dawes, distinguished poet-in-residence and English professor at the University of South Carolina since 1992, also taught at USC Sumter. He is the founder and director of the S.C. Poetry Initiative. While living in Sumter, Dawes performed in several plays at the Sumter Little Theatre, among them August Wilson's "The Piano Lesson." He is also an accomplished musician and storyteller, former lead singer of the Canadian reggae band Ujamaa and a novelist.

Among the many awards Dawes has received for his work are the Forward Poetry Prize, the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize and the Pushcart Prize for Best American Poetry in 2001. He is also an accomplished playwright.

 Wisteria, Dawes' 11th published volume of poems, is based on stories from Sumter County. Since Wisteria is a "Sumter book," Dawes said, it should be "launched ... celebrated and shared" in Sumter. The poems, he said, reflect the impact older Sumter residents have had on him through the stories and experiences they related. Many people will recognize the stories and the people who tell them as well as some of the true-life characters who people them. For many, the poems will evoke personal emotions and memories.

Lana Odom, director of the South Sumter Resource Center, where Dawes met the elderly African-American Sumterites he got to know, said she found the poems "true. Harsh, sometimes, but true."

Already, the performance piece based on the book is scheduled to tour Europe beginning in the fall.

The program that Sumter will see Sunday was presented at the Columbia Museum of Art in April, before the book was published. At that time, Dawes told Ellen Woodoff of the museum that Simmonds "... is the best person to work with poets because he is, himself, a quite gifted poet. … I could think of no one better to work with me on bringing Wisteria to life with music. The poems emerge out of this South Carolina soil — they emerge out of the generosity of South Carolina's women and men — those old African-American people who have survived so much."

Composer Simmonds told Woodoff, " ... more music emerges when [Dawes] reads [his poems]," he said. "Fortunately, I was able to find 'additional' music, especially writing for the stunning voices I have to work with." Those stunning voices are Valetta Brinson, an opera singer from Memphis, Tenn., and soprano Valerie Johnson, a professor of music at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C.

Simmonds' music is an integral part of Sunday's presentation.

His work for strings, flute and voice draws on spirituals, classical music and popular music and is wrought with his sense of place and texture. The composer, who wrote the music while he was completing his doctoral studies in the College of Music at USC, is traveling from San Francisco to be a part of this event.

Dawes' previous readings from Wisteria have received enthusiastic reviews. When he read from the book at Jamaica's Calabash Festival, the Chicago Sun-Times' religion writer Cathleen Falsani wrote "His poetry had seized us. By our spirits."

In a description that accurately describes the works in " Wisteria, Dawes told Falsani, "Very often, poetry is about using language to articulate that which is difficult to articulate, which is the emotional space that we find ourselves in, and the things that have allowed us to reach that emotional space."

The poems in the book were written over a period of years after many meetings with "the elders of Manning Avenue and the Southside." Dawes notes in his acknowledgments that " ... these men and women in their seventies and eighties ... taught me something about being southern and black: Mrs. Odom, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Richardson, Mrs. Sanders, Mrs. Tarleton, Mr. Ross and Mr. Thrower. These poems are not transcriptions of their voices, but a rendering that comes through our shared language of the Middle Passage and the many journeys we have all taken."

Most of the 41 poems do not identify the person who inspired them. Lana Odom, director of the South Sumter Resource Center, who facilitated Dawes' meetings with the elders, including her own mother, said the poems offer universal insights.

"I don't need to know which one is my mother's," she said.

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Wisteria, Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country

By Kwame Dawes





One / Wisteria





Tornado Child












Still Born






Long Memory






Black Funk




Two / Traveling Woman





Swamp Song




Train Ride


God Don't Like Ugly




Three / Domestics

At the Lake


Love Oil




Story Time


Good Help




Mother and Daughter




Poems in Everyday Places


Four / Vengeance

School House




Snapshot of the Southside




Fire Makers






Five / Obituaries



Tall Man Flies


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Kwame Dawes is the author of 13 books of poetry and many books of fiction, nonfiction, and drama, most recently Hope's Hospice (2009) and She's Gone (2007). He is Distinguished Poet in Residence at the University of South Carolina, where he directs the South Carolina Poetry Initiative and the University of South Carolina Arts Institute. He is the programming director of Jamaica's Calabash International Literary Festival. Dawes lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

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Home Is Where

An Anthology of African American Poetry from the Carolinas

By Kwame Dawes

In Home is Where, Kwame Dawes compiles the work of more than two dozen African American poets from the Carolinas, showcasing a vast array of original voices writing on subjects ranging from Jim Crow to jazz, haunted landscapes to romantic love-all in an attempt to define the South as home. Dawes-a nationally celebrated poet, dramatist, scholar, novelist, essayist, and founder of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative at the University of South Carolina-edits this new and unparalleled anthology from Hub City Press.

The poets range in notoriety from National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes, PEN American Open Book Award winner Nikky Finney, and Ansfield-Wolf Book Award winner A. Van Jordan to poets less recognizable by name whose work readers will immediately recognize as powerful, musical, and accomplished. In his introduction to the anthology, Dawes proclaims the necessity of this collection, not only for getting extraordinary poetry into the hands of readers but also for the political importance of the voices represented.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 11 September 2006




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