The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Kwame Dawes is well-known for his busy life as a poet, editor, professor and constant award-winner.
The poet, literary magazine editor and English professor was awarded the $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prize, an award which honors seven to nine other writers each year in poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama, on March 12.
As someone who’s lived in Ghana, Jamaica and the United States, Dawes said he appreciated the international nature of the award.
“I appreciate that the thing that I might have regarded as a handicap — my somewhat involved movements through immigration — has become an asset,” he said in an email. “I believe at the end of the day, my writing has led me to an aesthetic that makes sense of who I am and where I come from. It seems that the judges have recognized that, and that is gratifying.”
Dawes has received numerous other awards, including an Emmy in 2009 for his project “Hope: Living and Loving With HIV in Jamaica,” and was elected a chancellor to the American Academy of Poets in 2018.
“I write, and I take my writing seriously,” he said. “Awards affirm this. But were I to write for awards, I would be a failed writer.”
Dawes has been the editor-in-chief of the UNL-directed literary magazine, Prairie Schooner, and a chancellor’s professor in the English department since 2011. He said the chance to edit the magazine and continue his teaching in post-colonial literature inspired his move to Nebraska.
Ashley Strosnider, managing editor of Prairie Schooner, said Dawes has been an asset to the magazine and added a global perspective to its publishing.
“I think he has great taste,” she said. “He’s well read, and he just has a good sense of what’s interesting, what’s fresh, what works well on the page, and he does have a kind of global sensibility that has been interesting and important.”
Strosnider said hearing Dawes had won the Windham-Campbell Prize came as no surprise, seeing how hard he works.
“People often joke that he’s one of the hardest-working people in literature, but I think that’s kind of true,” she said.
As a professor, Dawes said he hopes to instill his students with the skills to think critically and appreciate beauty and art.
“Being literate is, for me, more than knowing how to read,” he said. “It is about having read, having the capacity to read and read and understand what is being read. A book is a storehouse of so much human information. That is a gift. My goal is to instill that passion, that intelligence, in students regardless of what they choose to do in their lives.”
Dawes said he’s currently writing and editing several books, some that will come out later this year.
“A more savvy writer would have a list for you, would list her latest book and encourage you to read it, and would list all the various places she will be reading next, and so on,” he said. “But I am not a savvy writer.”