Jamaican-Ghanaian Kwame Dawes Earns PEN Award

Kwame Dawes, George Holmes professor and the Glenna Luschei Editor of the literary journal Prairie Schooner, is the recipient of the prestigious 2021 PEN/Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing. The award honors Dawes for his high literary standards and taste, which have made significant contributions to the publication. PEN America called Dawes a “bold and visionary editor” who has proved the continuing validity of the literary journal and moved it on to new places. Under his leadership, the Prairie Schooner consistently “demonstrates excellence and innovation,” PEN America added, and for ten years, it has published “rigorous, aesthetically diverse, and compelling” work. Dawes expanded the publication’s reach via podcasts with Air Schooner in 2012.

PEN America noted that, while there are many current concerns about technology causing the “death of reading,” Dawes’s work indicates that this issue can be addressed through “energy and imagination.” Dawes is “the perfect recipient” of the award, according to PEN America, as his commitment and taste have added “vital force” to the literature of America and the world.

Kwame Dawes is a poet, actor, editor, critic, and musician. He was born in 1962 in Ghana. His family moved to Kingston, Jamaica, when his father Neville became the deputy director of the Institute of Jamaica. Dawes attended Jamaica College and the University of the West Indies, Mona, receiving a BA degree in 1983. He then studied and taught in Canada on a Commonwealth scholarship. He received a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of New Brunswick in 1992. From 1992 to 2012, Dawes taught English at the University of South Carolina and also served as Distinguished Poet in Residence, Director of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative, and Director of the USC Arts Institute. In 1994, he won the Forward Poetry Prize for the Best First Collection for his work Progeny of Air. In 2009, he won an Emmy Award in the category of New Approaches to News & Documentary Programming: Arts, Lifestyle & Culture for a project that documented HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. Dawes was the founding editor of the African Poetry Book Fund in 2014. He was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2018, and in 2019, was one of eight winners of the Windham-Campbell Prize.

Commenting on his award, Dawes acknowledged that national prizes for editorial work are rare, and receiving a prize for editing a journal is a “unique honor.” Dawes did not know that he had been considered for the award until he was notified that he had won it. He was gratified to know that the work undertaken for the Prairie Schooner had been recognized as the journal has been published for 90 years, and “journals like ours can be taken for granted,” he said.

The PEN America Literary awards are on par with the National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prize as one of the highest and most renowned literary awards in the United States and around the world.

The career achievement awards will be presented at the virtual 2021 Literary Awards Ceremony on April 8, 2021, at 7 pm ET. The ceremony will be available to viewers around the world and will celebrate American and world literature by honoring top writers before an audience comprising America’s most distinguished editors, publishers, agents, and philanthropists.

Source: College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska