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Tyehimba Jess
Photo: John Midgley
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NYS Writers Institute, Thursday, September 14, 2017
4:15 p.m. Seminar, Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, Uptown Campus
7:00 p.m. Reading, [Note early start time], Main Theatre, Performing Arts Center,
Uptown Campus


Tyehimba Jess, the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry will read from his work and discuss its origins as part of a celebration of spoken word poetry, which will also feature readings by UAlbany students, at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 14 in the Main Theatre of the Performing Arts Center, on UAlbany’s Uptown campus. Earlier that day at 4:15 p.m. Jess will hold an informal seminar in the Recital Hall in UAlbany’s Performing Arts Center. Free and open to the public, the events are cosponsored by the New York State Writers Institute, UAlbany’s Student Association, Division of Student Life, and The Writing Center of the English Department




Tyehimba Jess
most recently authored the Pulitzer-winning poetry collection, Olio (2016), which weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers from the Civil War up to World War I. His debut collection, leadbelly (2005), which was a National Poetry Series winner, tells the story of Huddie William Ledbetter and his passage to becoming the blues legend, Leadbelly.  These achievements span a career that Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib of The Rumpus called “vital to the archiving of black performance and black performers.”  Howard Rambsy II of Sou’wester recognized Jess’s poetry as “a crossroads of black literary art and musicality,” and praised Jess for “remix[ing] history and legend.”  The Boston Globe called Olio “one of the most inventive, intensive poetic undertakings of the past decade.”

Leading contemporary poetry critic Stephen Burt cited the daring of Jess’s work as well as the breadth of its appeal in recommending Olio as “something people who care for the music, or for African American cultural history, will read and reread, whether or not they notice its ambitious expansions of what has been possible for the contemporary poem.” 

In a Library Journal starred review Barbara Hoffert called Olio “a lightning-strike act of blending historical research and imagination, Jess’s poems range from the post-Civil War era to World War I to vivify mostly undocumented and underappreciated musicians, from the pianist Blind Tom to the Fisk Jubilee Singers to Scott Joplin.” 

If Olio is wide-ranging, it is also, according to Kaveh Akbar of Oxford American, “so relentless in its pursuit of the antebellum realities that remade our country, [that] … we are jolted awake by a hundred alarms, a century’s racket.”  Jacob Sunderlin of Kenyon Review echoed these observations by noting that “the deeper Jess digs into the past the closer he comes to the present.”

Jess’s first collection, leadbelly, earned him praise from Booklist, as “a distinct voice that any lover of blues or student of American history needs.”  Publishers Weekly further considered the way that Jess lent his voice to the history of the blues musician Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter by explaining that “in the telling of one life, a society is exposed—racist, well-meaning, violent, forgiving.”

Tyehimba Jess switched his major at the University of Chicago from Public Policy to English, before earning an MFA at New York University and becoming a fellow at the prestigious Cave Canem community of African American Poets and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. 

Prior to Jess’s evening presentation, UAlbany students will perform their own spoken word poetry.

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at