Author and Emmy winner Kwame Dawes says much of the work he does today is the result of the opportunities offered to him at the University of New Brunswick.
Born in Ghana in 1962, Dawes spent most of his childhood and early adult life in Jamaica. He is the author of thirteen books of poetry and many books of fiction, non-fiction and drama. In 2009 he won a News and Documentary Emmy Award for his documentary website Hope: living & loving in Jamaica.
In 1987, Dawes came to UNB to pursue a PhD in English after graduating from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and winning a Commonwealth Scholarship to study English in Canada.
“One afternoon in January in the middle of a startling blizzard I landed in Fredericton to begin a five year journey that has been extremely wonderful for me,” said Dawes.
Dawes says he was able to advance his work as a creative writer in New Brunswick because of the rich literary tradition at UNB.
“I got to teach Creative Writing, work as editor of The Brunswickan, produce and host several radio shows at CHSR and become an expert on reggae music.”
Dawes was in three reggae bands while studying at UNB — one of which went on to be quite successful and produced a couple CDs.
Dawes was not only an active student at UNB, but also an active member of the Fredericton community. He was part of Theatre New Brunswick and did workshops in local prisons and schools. He became part of the story-telling circuit, traveling around the country telling Caribbean stories. CBC Radio gave him the opportunity to read his writing on air and he was a part of the Independent Film Alliance in New Brunswick and co-director of several films.
And on top of all this — impressive in its own right — he also managed to get a PhD.
Roger Ploude, professor emeritus in English at UNB, knew Dawes well.
“What I most remember about him is not only his strong academic performance, but also his obvious creativity and talents as a writer,” said Ploude. “He is certainly among our more distinguished graduates.”
Much of Dawes work, including the work that won him an Emmy, is about the effects of HIV-AIDS.
“I first wrote about HIV-AIDS when I was a student at UNB,” said Dawes. “I have since become quite interested in telling the story of HIV-AIDS around the world, through poetry and essays, and by meeting people and telling their stories as effectively as I can.”
He says winning an Emmy has opened doors and allowed him to do more work on HIV-AIDS.
“I am most proud of the Emmy because it was an affirmation of the power of poetry to move us and to help us see the world in powerful ways,” said Dawes. “For a poet, that kind of affirmation is very important.”
Dawes says there is no question that the time he spent in Canada affirmed who he was as an artist, but his fondest memories of his time at UNB were for more personal reasons.
“Fredericton and UNB have a very special place in my memory because it was there that my wife, Lorna, and I got married in the quaint chapel on the hill overlooking the school,” said Dawes. “And it was in Fredericton, one chilly February morning, that my first daughter, Sena, was born at the Chalmers Hospital.”
Today, Dawes is a Distinguished Poet in Residence at the University of South Carolina where he directed the SC Poetry Initiative and the University of South Carolina Arts Institute. He is also the programming director of the Calabash International Literary Festival that takes place each May in Jamaica.
Contributed by Natasha Ashfield, UNB Communications & Marketing