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Kwame Dawes Named 2013 Paul Engle Prize Winner

A guest post by John Kenyon, Executive Director, Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.

IOWA CITY - Kwame Dawes (IWP '86), Chancellor Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, has been named the second recipient of the Paul Engle Prize, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.

The prize, established in 2011, honors an individual who, like the late Paul Engle, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing, or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.

Dawes will receive the prize, which includes a special plaque and $10,000, during a special ceremony as part of the Iowa City Book Festival on Oct. 12. That day has been designated “Paul Engle Day” in Iowa The event will be at noon in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber, and is free and open to the public.

Dawes teaches post-colonial literature and theory, African-American literature, and Caribbean literature at Nebraska, and is a member of the creative writing program. He also serves as the Glenna Luschel Editor of Prairie Schooner an 85-year-old quarterly journal, and founding Series Editor of the African Poetry Book Fund and Series.

Dawes was born in Ghana, raised in exile in Jamaica and the United Kingdom, and first came to the United States as a participant in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP) in 1986.

In nominating Dawes for the Engle Prize, IWP Associate Director Hugh Ferrer wrote, “In the intervening years, (Dawes) has become arguably the leading creative force of Caribbean literature, helping in all aspects of his activities to create and promote the poetry and Poetics of the trans-Atlantic African diaspora. His generosity of spirit within the literary world was reflected in his winning of the 2012 Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers award; and his immense creative capacities were acknowledged last year by the Guggenheim Foundation.”

Dawes remembers meeting Engle and his wife, Hualing Nieh Engle, in 1986, as a participant in the International Writing Program.

“I felt welcomed, but above all, I felt challenged by the vision, ambition and generosity of Paul Engle,” he said. “It would have been impossible for me not to seal that memory in my mind for future reference. I have spent the rest of my time since then being a writer and being an advocate for writers and for writing.”

Anny D. Curtius, Associate Professor of Francophone Studies and Co-Director of the Caribbean, Diaspora and Atlantic Studies Program at the University of Iowa, served as a member of the selection panel. Of Dawes she said, “It is worth emphasizing that he indefatigably works for the betterment of communities, and being closely involved with the South Sumter Resource Center that help youth at risk, and spearheading a special Rites of Passage Program for minority youths, are significant examples of such a commitment.”

Dawes said he believes his task is to find ways to make the business of writing poems, novels, stories and essays and sharing them with world a right that all societies should have regardless of their history or circumstance.

"This is why this award means so much to me," he said. "It is in the name of a man who was clearly a maverick, and yet someone who understood community and who valued writers.”

The Paul Engle Prize is made possible through the generous support of the City of Coralville, which soon will be home to 11 permanent sculptures with artistic and literary ties to Iowa. The sculptures all have ties to work found in The Iowa Writers’ Library, housed in the Coralville Marriott, which features about 800 books written by former students, graduates and faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

The prize first was awarded in 2011, and James Alan McPherson – a longtime instructor at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Elbow Room – was the recipient.

Paul Engle (Oct. 12, 1908 - March 22, 1991), though best remembered as the long-time director of the Writers’ Workshop and co-founder of the UI’s International Writing Program, also was a well-regarded poet, playwright, essayist, editor and critic.

Dawes will be in Iowa City for five days as an Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor. Public events include a reading of his poetry and a live-streamed memorial reading in honor of his uncle, celebrated Ghanaian writer Kofi Awoonor, killed in the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya. More information about Dawes' visit available on IWP's website.

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