By Sasha Debevec-McKenney’12
More than a year ago, I heard whispers in the English department that the 2013 Lois and Willard Mackey Chair in Creative Writing was going to be an especially big deal.
At the time, I was working on my creative writing honors thesis, a collection of poems about the historical relevance of growing up half-black in America. I was also reading Kevin Young’s poetry for the first time and was overwhelmingly inspired and amazed. Then, somehow, the poetry gods smiled upon Beloit and Kevin Young became the 2013 Lois and Willard Mackey Chair. I knew that, when he gave his reading, like all Mackey Chairs before him, I would be in the front row. I would savor it.
This Friday, April 5, at 8 p.m., Kevin Young will give the annual Mackey Chair reading. You’re luckier than you know. Here’s why I think you should make your way to Moore Lounge and hear him read:
5. Kevin Young is an especially big deal. He’s published seven books of poetry and has edited eight more—all of which have been nominated and/or won big, important awards. Young is a great poet—and that’s an understatement. If you don’t go to the reading, you’ll regret it. His poetry is so varied in topic—a book on the artist Jean-Michael Basquiat, another on the Amistad rebels, even a noir—there will be something you’re interested in.
4. He just had three poems to Amy Winehouse published in the spring 2013 issue of The Paris Review. Maybe he’ll read them, maybe he won’t. But either way, Young’s poetry is peppered with pop culture. Even if you think you don’t “get” poetry, Young’s topics, language, and references give any reader the chance to get it.
3. Each year, the Mackey Chair teaches a six-week class. In Young’s class so far, he’s pushed us to see the page as a music score, and to try and understand the effect that punctuation has on on rhythm and musicality. The musicality of Young’s work is evident—especially when he reads. His reading won’t be boring, I can promise you that.
2. You will learn more than you can imagine. Not only does Young understand poetry and its history in a way that has blown me away, but his own poetry often deals with American history in complex ways. The way Kevin Young thinks about history, as exhibited in his poetry, is the way we at Beloit College are taught to think about history: critically, personally, and in depth.
1. He is the first African-American Mackey Chair; the position has existed since 1988. This is history, folks.
You can hear Young talk about his work (and Beloit—cold weather, warm people) in his own words here; if you can’t be on campus for Friday’s reading, you can tune in to the live stream at www.beloit.edu/live.