from Kwame Dawes

 Dear Friends,
This project, presented here in this interactive website, is what I have been doing for the past six months and what I expect to continue to do for the next little while. The performance of these poems and the music composed by Kevin Simmonds, will be on tour in the fall. The crew for this piece is the same that had such success with Wisteria. A long essay with stunning photographs appears in this month’s issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review and two short documentaries are appearing around the country on the program Foreign Exchange. I trust that you will be moved by this work. The url is:

Hope: The Performance

In late 2007, Ghanaian-Jamaican writer Kwame Dawes embarked on a research trip to Jamaica to explore the experience of people living with HIV/AIDS and to examine the ways in which the disease was shaping their lives.

The journey brought him in touch with a range of people who told their stories, shared their lives and taught him a great deal about resilience, hope and possibility in the face of despair.  There were those who were living with the disease, those who had committed their lives to caring for those living with the disease; there were the angry and resentful, the fearful and uncertain, the resigned and hopeless, and the resourceful and hopeful. 

Dawes, an award-winning poet, began to respond to this experience through a series of poems that capture the rich humanity of those he met and the complex emotions that come from contending so intimately with issues of mortality, stigma and grace. Dawes then shared these poems with long-time collaborator, composer and poet Kevin Simmonds who set the poems to music, showcasing the spirit of Dawes’ work.

The Performance:
“Hope” has now been shaped into an hour-long performance performed by an ensemble of thirteen musicians including singers, string ensemble, flute, and percussion.  The work reflects Kevin Simmonds’ eclectic musical tastes that are grounded by a deep soulfulness and a tender economy of modes that shift effortlessly between the classics, Caribbean inflected melodies, and the sublime possibilities of spirituals. The work is performed against the backdrop of stunning photographs of Jamaica and many of the people whose lives have helped to inspire this work. 

Kwame Dawes’ resonant readings of his work represent some of the most exciting poetry performances of today. In “Hope” we are never consumed by pity or unmitigated lament, but we are asked to be engaged by a stark truth-telling tempered by the alchemy that poetry can bring to difficult experience – turning the ordinary into the sublime, into art.  Somehow, this work manages to channel the voices of people in ways that allow us to traverse oceans, borders and the limits of language to find shared truth and meaning. 

The Company: Kwame Dawes, poet; Kevin Simmonds, piano; Valetta Brinson, soprano; Alvoy Bryant, violin; Billy Coakley, tenor; Valerie Johnson, soprano; James Miller, flute; Christopher Neely, viola; Nicole Neely, viola; Cora Phillips, cello; Celia Teasdel, mezzo soprano; Guitarist; Percussionist


The Project:
“Hope: The Performance” stems from research done for The Jamaica Project, the second of two Caribbean reporting initiatives undertaken by the Pulitzer Center with support from the MAC AIDS Fund. The first, Heroes of HIV: HIV in the Caribbean, focused on Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Articles in The Palm Beach Post and three video documentaries broadcast on Foreign Exchange are available via an interactive web presentation designed by bluecadet.

 The Jamaica Project involves an extended essay on Jamaica HIV/AIDS issues by Kwame Dawes, scheduled for publication in the spring 2008 issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review, as well as another interactive web presentation, created by photographer Josh Cogan ( and bluecadet ( 

For more information on Kwame Dawes’s writing, visit  For a taste of his work as a poet and performer, see The clips shown therein are from the critically-acclaimed piece “Wisteria: Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country,” a musical and poetry collaboration by Dawes and Simmonds that is the model for “Hope: The Performance” (


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