Conversation Series:

Poetry as Radicalization and Liberation for BIPOC & Marginalized People

This new conversation series searches for a foundation of thinking on and a collective exploration of poetry’s role in activism and social change from contemporary poets whose art directly reflects such inquiry and risk. The program’s creator and host is Felicia Zamora, poet and assistant professor of poetry at the University of Cincinnati. 

Conversation guests are asked a series of five to six questions on what it means for them to be a poet in the current climate of the nation, their thoughts around poetry as a medium for social change, and how they see imagination’s role in their art and the role art plays in radicalization.

Either we are doing the work of making a better world, or we are doing something else.

Dr. Joshua Bennett

What does it mean to be a poet in the current climate of our nation? How do Dr. Bennett’s words, “doing something else” fuel the larger conversations around human justice and white supremacy in the country? Poets, as artists, by intrinsic nature look beyond the veil of what is, to expose the seams of existence. Do poets have an obligation to call failed systems and structures into question? Is poetry activism? What roles do imagination and magic play in the invention of a world where BIPOC and marginalized people’s liberation exist?

The series is supported by the Charles Phelps Taft Research Center, the A&S Faculty Development Award in the Vice Provost’s Office, and the Latino Faculty Association at the University of Cincinnati.

Find all conversations below, beginning with the most recent. All conversations were originally broadcast live as free, public events. 

Dr. Craig Santos Perez - 4/6/22

Dr. Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamoru (Chamorro) from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam). He is a poet, scholar, editor, publisher, essayist, critic, book reviewer, artist, environmentalist, and political activist. He is a Professor in the English Department at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa, where he teaches creative writing, eco-poetry, and Pacific literature. He is affiliate faculty with the Center for Pacific Islands Studies and the Indigenous Politics Program. 

Craig is the author of two spoken word poetry albums, Undercurrent (2011) and Crosscurrent (2017), and five books of poetry: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (2008), from unincorporated territory [saina] (2010), from unincorporated territory [guma’] (2014), from unincorporated territory [lukao] (2017), and Habitat Threshold (2020). His work has been translated into Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish. His monograph, Navigating CHamoru Poetry: Indigeneity, Aesthetics, and Decolonization, is forthcoming in 2022 from the Critical Issues of Indigenous Studies at the University of Arizona Press. 

He is the co-founder of Ala Press (the only publisher in the US wholly dedicated to Pacific literature) and the co-editor of five anthologies of Pacific and eco-literature: Chamoru Childhood (2008), Home(is)lands: New Art and Writing from Guahan and Hawaiʻi (2018), Effigies III: Indigenous Pacific Islander Poetry (2019), Indigenous Literatures from Micronesia (2019), and Geopoetics in Practice (2020).

Donika Kelly – 2/23/22

Donika Kelly is the author of The Renunciations (Graywolf, 2021) and Bestiary (Graywolf). Bestiary is the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry, and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. The collection was also long listed for the National Book Award, and was a finalist for a Publishing Triangle Award and a Lambda Literary Award. A Cave Canem graduate fellow and member of the collective Poets at the End of the World, Donika has also received a Lannan Residency Fellowship, and a summer workshop fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center. Her poems have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic online, The Paris Review, and Foglifter. She currently lives in Iowa City and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa, where she teaches creative writing.

Hoa Nguyen – 2/2/22

Born in the Mekong Delta, Hoa Nguyen was raised and educated in the United States and has lived in Canada since 2011. She is the author of several books including As Long As Trees Last, Red Juice: Poems 1998-2008, and Violet Energy Ingots which received a 2017 Griffin Prize nomination. Her fifth book of poems, A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure was named a finalist for a National Book Award for Poetry and the Governor General’s Literary Award and has garnered additional support from Publishers Weekly, The Poetry Foundation, Ms Magazine, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Her writing has been promoted by such outlets as Granta, PEN American Center, CBC Books, Boston Review, The Best Canadian Poetry series, Poetry, The Walrus, and Pleiades. In 2019, she was nominated for a Neustadt International Prize for Literature, a prestigious international literary award often compared with the Nobel Prize in Literature. Since 2017, she has served as Associated Faculty of the University of Guelph Creative Writing MFA program.

Dr. Joshua Bennett – 1/27/22

Dr. Joshua Bennett is the author of The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016)—which was a National Poetry Series selection and a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He is also the author of Being Property Once Myself (Harvard University Press, 2020), Owed (Penguin, 2020), The Study of Human Life (Penguin, 2022) and Spoken Word: A Cultural History, which is forthcoming from Knopf. He has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. He is a Professor of English at Dartmouth College.

Jennifer S. Cheng – 9/22/21

Jennifer S. Cheng’s Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems was selected by Bhanu Kapil for the Tarpaulin Sky Award and named a Publishers Weekly “Best Book of 2018." She is also the author of House A, selected by Claudia Rankine for the Omnidawn Poetry Prize, and Invocation: An Essay, an image-text chapbook published by New Michigan Press. She is a 2019 NEA Literature Fellow and has received awards and fellowships from Brown University, the University of Iowa, San Francisco State University, the U.S. Fulbright program, and the Academy of American Poets. Having grown up mainly in Texas and Hong Kong, she lives in San Francisco. 

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal – 6/2/21

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal was born in the Rio Grande Valley to Mexican immigrants. She is the author of the award-winning collection Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, Akrilica Series 2017), recipient of a 2019 Whiting Award, a Kate Tufts Discovery Award nomination, and winner of the John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Harpers Bazaar, Oxford American, POETRY, and elsewhere. She is a recipient of a 2021 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship and a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she is working on a poetry and nonfiction collection while raising her son. Her essay collection, CHUECA, is forthcoming from Tiny Reparations Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in 2023. Find her on Twitter @Vanessid.