National Book Foundation: Writing Survival Comes to Fisk University

On Monday, October 14th, 2019, award-winning writers Danez Smith and Brandon Hobson visited Fisk University for a reading and a dialogue with the campus community. The event was co-hosted by the Fisk University English discipline and the National Book Foundation, the organization that gives out the National Book Award, for which both Smith and Hobson were finalists.Rouse and Hobson


The theme of the event was “writing survival,” a topic engaged by both writers’ works. Smith is a Black, Queer, Poz writer & performer from St. Paul, MN, whose poetry collection Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017) was a finalist for the National Book Award. They are the recipient of fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, Cave Canem, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and their work has been featured widely including on Buzzfeed, in The New York Times, and on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. They wowed the audience with a performance of poems from Don’t Call Us Dead.


Brandon Hobson is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation Tribe of Oklahoma and a Pushcart-Prize-winning writer whose work has appeared in such places as Conjunctions and The Paris Review Daily.Hamby Prince Rogers He read a section from his 2018 novel Where the Dead Sit Talking, which was a 2018 finalist for the National Book Award, 2019 finalist for the St. Francis College Literary Prize, and Winner of 2018 Reading the West Book Award. His new novel is forthcoming from Ecco next year. He teaches creative writing at New Mexico State University and at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.


The conversation was hosted by local Nashville poet Ciona Rouse. During the Q&A, Fisk English major Destiny Reed asked whether it is an author’s job to “write the hard stuff.” The panelists responded in the affirmative. Smith spoke about being HIV positive, about being a writer in the twenty-first century, and the importance of social media: one of their favorite poems, they told the crowd, was first published on facebook as a knee-jerk reaction to the death of Tamir Rice. Hobson spoke about growing up in Oklahoma, amid a population with political views very different from his own.


After the event La Tanya Rogers, associate professor of English remarked about how extraordinary it was that “not one but TWO National Book Award finalists would gather in an intimate undergraduate space at Fisk University to read from their work and engage the inquiries of our keen students who are, in their own right, budding national voices.”