Guest Speaker Poet Camille Dungy Speaks to Students

Elena Rouse, Co-Culture Editor

On Tuesday, March 29, poet Camille Dungy came to campus for the third installment of the English Department’s Literary Festival. Thus far, speakers have included Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown and social media activist Emma Dabiri, and this occasion marked another talented visionary coming to speak about their work.

Dungy is a nature poet focusing on the African American experience through the world around us, challenging just what it means to define things as nature and human, and if the two are even separate at all. She has written four collections of poetry and prose pieces and is the recipient of the American Book Award, the Northern California Book Award and California Book Award silver medal. She has edited three anthologies, most notably “Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry.”

The poet came to speak to students for the course titled “Authors On and Off The Page” about her collection of poems titled “Trophic Cascade.” Written in 2017, the collection intertwines the complications, beauties and hardships of motherhood, racial violence, death and the wildness of nature. Students were able to ask Dungy a myriad of questions both about the poetry collection itself as well as more expansive questions about her career and writing process.

When one student asked about her depiction of nature, Dungy used an anecdote from her childhood, describing her domesticated front yard in comparison to the desert in her back one, and how the two were both beautiful and uncontrollable in their own ways. She also covered things like when she writes, how she tricks her mind into locking into creativity and revision. For the young writers in the room, it was a wonderful opportunity.

“Getting advice from accomplished writers provides such great insights for all of us in class,” junior Jessica Laino said. “I’ve learned so much about ways to better my own writing just from listening to what these poets and novelists have to say.”

As for the reading itself, Dungy took to the Falvey Speaker’s Corner at 7 p.m. A collection of English students and faculty congregated in lined up folding chairs to witness the poet, clutching complimentary refreshments from the event coordinators.

Two students from Authors On and Off The Page, Daniel Gorman and Maxwell Karibian, introduced Dungy to the spectators. Dungy then took to the podium, reading student suggested poems, as well as some of her own favorites. Some of the titles included “Natural History,” the chilling “From the First, The Body Was Dirt” and “Glacial Erratics.”

Following the reading, listeners partook in a short Q&A, mirroring questions from the students in her previous session with Authors On and Off The Page.

This event was the third installment of the English Department’s Annual Literary Festival. The final one will be on April 21 at 7 p.m. in the Falvey Speaker’s Corner. Novelist, essayist and poet Tiphanie Yanique is set to speak and close out the year’s Festival.