Exploring Race Through Poetry And Artistic Expression

Mar 18, 2016

While issues surrounding race and identity often are examined politically and socially through rhetoric and discussion, many argue the arts can provide fresh insights into seeing this complex issue more clearly.

As part of the University of Pittsburgh’s ‘Year of Humanities,’ six acclaimed African American poets of diverse backgrounds will participate in a poetry reading and panel discussion on how to explore issues of race through creative writing.

Terrance Hayes, Pitt English professor and MacArthur fellow, and Toi Derricotte, Pitt professor and co-founder of the Cave Canem Foundation, joined Essential Pittsburgh to preview the event.

Hayes highlights the importance of language in communication beyond body language, and says poetry is the venue to begin these difficult conversations.

“I don’t know what other form could do it,” Hayes admits.

Derricotte says poetry is a universal experience, in which all people can begin to truly understand one another through their own personal expression.

“Uncovering the roots of personal experience is the same for all people.  It’s not just about race,” Derricotte says.

In making art, Hayes says the most important element is revision.  Through revision, something can be seen not only through a personal lens, but through the lens of others.  This process leads to a deeper understanding about making connections and relations with other people.

Hayes encourages those who have big questions not to dismiss them, but to massage out a subject and look at it from all angles to lead to empathy and understanding.

“If you dismiss them, then you don’t get to make art.  You’ve made your mind up.  With everything, if you have other questions on top of questions, I think that always leads to art,” Hayes says.

It is Derricotte’s hope that each audience member can take away something new and exciting from the event to enrich their lives and create dialogue regarding their own human experience to awaken artistic expression.

“Great poetry comes from great dialogue.”

Poetry and Race in America: How the Humanities Engage with Social Problems the Interactive Workshop begins Sunday, March 20 at 5pm at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater on Pitt’s campus.

 More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.