IOWA CITY — Kwame Dawes, chancellor professor of English at the University of Nebraska, has been named recipient of the Paul Engle Prize, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.
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 literary arts.
Dawes will receive the prize, which includes a special plaque and $10,000, during a ceremony as part of the Iowa City Book Festival at noon Saturday in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber. Oct. 12 is “Paul Engle Day” in Iowa. The event is free.
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 in 1986.
“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,” wrote Hugh Ferrer, Iowa Writing Program associate director who nominated Dawes for the prize. “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.”
“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,” said Anny Durtius, associate professor of Francophone Studies and co-director of the Caribbean, Diaspora and Atlantic Studies Program at the University of Iowa, who served on the selection panel.
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.”
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.”