The Visiting Writer Series held the semester’s final event Thursday, Nov. 15, in the International Building. Southern Miss’s English Department welcomed poet Hanif Abdurraqib to share a selection from his body of work.
A poet, essayist and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio, Abdurraqib has had his work featured in a wide array of literature outlets.
Released in June 2016 from Button Poetry, his first full-length poetry collection, “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much,” was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize and was nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.
His first collection of essays, “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us,” was released in Winter 2017 by Two Dollar Radio and named a book of the year by Buzzfeed, Esquire, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Paste, CBC, The Los Angeles Review, Pitchfork and The Chicago Tribune.
Abdurraqib said he was inspired by his mother.
“My mother was a writer, so I grew up immersed in words and tried to figure out their possibilities,” Abdurraqib said. “I was a reader before and read a lot, and I hit a point where I was trying to figure out how I could get language to work out for me.”
The event began shortly after 7:30 in the evening, with attendees scrunching inward to make space for the over-capacity crowd. Many people were left to stand on their feet throughout the speaking.
Creative writing professor Joshua Bernstein, Ph.D., introduced Abdurraqib with a list of accomplishments and accolades.
“What I think Hanif highlights in his essays are some of the contradictions of America, pop-culture and general, but more than that, I think, Hanif hints at the underlying anxiety and the sense of estrangement felt by almost everybody in this country, but perhaps people of color and immigrants most of all,” Bernstein said.
Abdurraqib began with multiple poem selections that provoked a steady stream of snapping, the proper and more appropriate response to a poetry speaking instead of applause.
His work ranges and explores themes of race and community issues, as well as friendship, loneliness and our shared quest for meaning. Trotting through his set, Abdurraqib kept it informal and casually chit-chatted with the crowd when shuffling between poems and essays and bolstered laughter from the full room.
His charm and quick wit shined even more during the Q&A session that followed the speaking. When asked to describe himself in three words he responded elegantly with “trying and failing,” which brought gracious smiles from those in attendance.
“It was amazing,” junior English major Cherish Triplett said. “I really love his ideologies about how to formulate poetry and where he gets his inspiration from when writing poetry. It also inspires me because he’s a black poet. He’s basically doing the things that I want to do with my own poetry.”
Joseph Sigurdson, a first-year creative writing graduate student and poet, said Abdurraqib is a “great performer.”
“He plays with voice and has multiple speakers in his book, and that’s something that’s always intrigued me,” Sigurdson, who writes mainly prose poetry, said.
The Visiting Writers Series will welcome novelist Katy Simpson Smith to Southern Miss Feb. 7.
photo courtesy abdurraqib.com