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Douglas Kearney Lecture

Tuesday, March 12

6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. CDT

Fullerton Hall, Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave

Left: Douglas Kearney. Right: Optic Subwoof, Wave Books, 2022Left: Douglas Kearney. Right: Optic Subwoof, Wave Books, 2022.

Douglas Kearney is a poet, performer, and librettist who has published seven books that bridge thematic concerns such as politics, African American culture, masks, the trickster figure, and contemporary music. Sho (Wave Books, 2021) was the winner for the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize, the 2022 Minnesota Book Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, and the Kingsley Tufts Award. Navigating the complex penetrability of language, the poems in this collection are sonic in their espousal of Black vernacular strategies, while examining histories and current events through the lyric, brand new dances, and other performances.

Most recently, Kearney is the author of Optic Subwoof (Wave Books, 2022), a collection of talks that he presented for the Bagley Wright Lecture Series in 2020 and 2021, which won the 2023 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism and was a finalist for the 2023 Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) Firecracker Award for Creative Nonfiction. As kinetic on the page as they are in person, these lectures offer an urgent critique of the intersections between violence and entertainment, interrogating the ways in which poetry, humor, visual art, music, pop culture, and performance alternately uphold and subvert this violence.

Kearney is also the author of Buck Studies (Fence Books, 2016), which was awarded the CLMP Firecracker Award for Poetry, the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize, and the silver medal for the California Book Award in Poetry. Kearney describes the non-traditional layout of his poems as “performative typography.” On the relationship between his poetry and politics, he notes: “For me, the political is a part of how I see the world. My art making doesn’t begin without realizing who I am and what it means for me to be writing a poem and not doing something else.” Kearney’s collection of writing on poetics and performativity, Mess and Mess and (Noemi Press, 2015), is a Small Press Distribution Handpicked selection. In it, Kearney writes, “If my writing makes a mess of things, it’s not to flee understanding, but to map (mis-)understanding as a verb.” Patter (Red Hen Press, 2014), Kearney’s third poetry collection, examines miscarriage, infertility, and parenthood. The Black Automaton (Fence Books, 2009) is a National Poetry Series selection and Someone Took They Tongues (Subito Press, 2016) collects several of Kearney’s libretti, including one written in a counterfeit Afro-diasporic language. 

Kearney has received a Whiting Award and the Cy Twombly Award for Poetry, and was named a notable New American Poet by the Poetry Society of America, He has been awarded fellowships from Cave Canem and The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. His work has appeared in a number of journals, including POETRY magazine, The Iowa Review, Boston Review, and Indiana Review, and anthologies, including Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky, Best American Poetry, Best American Experimental Writing, and What I Say: Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in America. Kearney is a McKnight Presidential Fellow and associate professor of Creative Writing/English at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.