Kwame Senu Neville Dawes was born in Ghana in 1962 and grew up in Jamaica where he attended Jamaica College and the University of the West Indies at Mona. He studied and taught in New Brunswick on a Commonwealth Scholarship to Canada. Since 1992 he has been teaching at the University of South Carolina. He is a Professor in English on the Columbia campus of that institution where he is Distinguished Poet in Residence and Director of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative.
His critical articles on literature, theater and film have been published widely. He is an actor playwright and producer, an accomplished storyteller, broadcaster and was the lead singer in Ujamaa, a reggae band. To date, Kwame Dawes has seen produced fifteen of his plays and he has acted in, directed or produced several of these productions. His major works which have had successful runs in Jamaica and tours in the Caribbean and in Canada include Friends and Almost Lovers, Brown Leaf, Charades, Even Unto Death, Charity’s Come, In Chains of Freedom, In the Warmth of the Cold, Dear Pastor and Song of an Injured Stone. During the early 1980s Dawes was the founder and artistic director of the Christian Graduate Theatre Company. Productions of his plays have won several theatre awards in Jamaica. His new play, One Love, inspired by the novel Brother Man by Roger Mais, opened at the Bristol Old Vic in the UK in April 2001 under the direction of Yvonne Brewster. One Love completed a successful run at the Lyric Hammersmith in London in July 2001. The play has been published by Methuen Books (UK 2001). His play Stump of the Terebinth was the winner of Trinidad and Tobago’s National Schools Festival in 2001. The play was staged by St. Joseph’s High School in Trinidad and directed by Roshini Twarie. In 2002-3 Stump toured with the St. Louis Black Repertory Theater Company under the direction of Artistic Director Ron Hinds.
Dawes has published eight collections of poetry, Progeny of Air (Peepal Tree 1994--Winner of the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection, UK) Resisting the Anomie (Goose Lane 1995), Prophets (Peepal Tree 1995). Jacko Jacobus, (Peepal Tree 1996), Requiem, (Peepal Tree 1996) a suite of poems inspired by the illustrations of African American artist, Tom Feelings in his landmark book The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo, and Shook Foil (Peepal Tree 1998) a collection of reggae-inspired poems. His most recent collection, Midland, was recently awarded the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize by the Ohio University Press (2001). The judge for contest was Eavan Boland. In 2001, Dawes was a winner of a Push Cart Prize for the best American poetry of 2001.
Dawes' poetry has appeared in such journals as the London Review of Books, Bomb Magazine, Doubletake Magazine, Poetry Review, Obsidian III, Calalloo, Shanandoah, the Mississippi Review, the Indiana Review, Ariel, West Coast, Mangrove, Wasafiri, Caribbean Writer, Poetry London, among others. He writes a regular column on poetry, "Poetically Speaking" in the State Newspaper of South Carolina.
In 2000, Dawes published several new titles including a book of interviews with contemporary West Indian poets, Talk Yuh Talk: Interviews with Caribbean Poets (University of Virginia Press 2000). Mapmaker, a chapbook of poems by Dawes was recently winner of the Poetry Business Contest in the UK and appeared in May 2000 under the Smith/Doorstop imprint. Dawes has also edited an anthology of reggae poetry, Wheel and Come Again, which was published by Peepal Tree Books in the UK and Goose Lane Editions in Canada in 1998. Dawes is also author of a critical examination of reggae music and literature Natural Mysticism: Towards a Reggae Aesthetic (Peepal Tree 1999). He also guest-edited a special issue of Obsidian III called Catch A Fire: An Anthology of Contemporary Jamaican Writing in 2001. It represents a ground-breaking work in Post-Colonial studies. In December of 2002, Dawes published three new titles. His ground-breaking study of the lyrics of Bob Marley, Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius was published by Sanctuary Publishing. Peepal Tree published his first book of fiction, a collection of stories titled A Place to Hide and Other Stories, and New and Selected Poems, a selection of poems published between 1994 and 2001. Dawes is now awaiting the publication of a novel set in Jamaica (Bivouac) (Peepal Tree 2005)
Dawes’ essays and reviews on Caribbean Literature, African American Literature, Black British Literature, African Literature and issues of race and identity have appeared in such publications as Ariel, Bomb, World Literature Today, Essence Magazine, Emerge Magazine, Poetry Review, World Press Review, Critical Quarterly, West Coast, The Washington Post, London Review of Books, the Journal of West Indian Literature, African American Review, Fuse, African Affairs: The Royal Society of African Studies, DoubleTake Magazine, The Atlanta Review, The Mississippi Review, Wasafiri, The Caribbean Writer, Calalloo, Critique and the Journal of Caribbean Literatures. He has appeared regularly on radio and television in the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden and the United States. In December of 1997, a full-page feature of Dawes appeared in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution which gave attention to Dawes’ work as a poet and as a researcher into the lives of African Americans in Sumter, SC.
Dawes has performed and read from his work in Europe, the Caribbean and North America for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. His research into folk life in the South, the Caribbean and Africa has provided him with fodder for his poetry and his storytelling. He is also doing a greet deal of research into post-colonial literature and theory and writing from Africa and the African Diaspora. Dawes has received several awards for his writing including an Individual Artist Fellowship from the South Carolina Arts Commission and a Pushcart Prize for his poetry (2001).
In 1987 Dawes was made an Honorary Fellow of the University of Iowa’s writing program. In 1997 he was appointed as an Associate Fellow of the University of Warwick. Dawes is now Series Editor of a special book series of Caribbean plays for Peepal Tree Books. Kwame Dawes, former director of the MFA program at the University of South Carolina, is the coordinator of a Minority Visiting Writers Series sponsored by the University of South Carolina. Kwame Dawes is the Criticism and co-Poetry Editor of Obsidian III, a leading African American literary journal. Dawes is the programmer for the Calabash International Literary Festival held in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, each year.
kwamedaw at kwamedawes dot com