Terrance Hayes

National Book Award-Winning Poet
MacArthur "Genius" Award Recipient

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  • An Evening with Terrance Hayes

Biography

“Terrance Hayes is a poet who reflects on race, gender, and family in works marked by formal dexterity and a reverence for history and the artistry of crafting verse. Employing an almost improvisational approach to writing, Hayes conjoins fluid, often humorous wordplay with references to popular culture both past and present in his subversion of canonical poetic forms.” —MacArthur Foundation 

“First you’ll marvel at his skill, his near-perfect pitch, his disarming humor, his brilliant turns of phrase. Then you’ll notice the grace, the tenderness, the unblinking truth-telling just beneath his lines, the open and generous way he takes in our world.” —Cornelius Eady

One of the most compelling voices in American poetry, Terrance Hayes is the author of six books of poetry; American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (2018), a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry and winner of the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry; How to Be Drawn (2015), longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry; Lighthead (2010), winner of the 2010 National Book Award in Poetry; Wind in a Box, winner of a Pushcart Prize; Hip Logic, winner of the National Poetry Series, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets; and Muscular Music, winner of both the Whiting Writers Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He is also the author of the short story collection To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight (2018), which won the 2019 Etheridge Knight Criticism Collection award from The Poetry Foundation; and the editor of the anthology Wicked Enchantment: Selected Poems. He has been a recipient of many other honors and awards, including a 2014 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, two Pushcart selections, eight Best American Poetry selections, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Guggenheim Foundation. His poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines including The New Yorker, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Fence, The Kenyon Review, Jubilat, Harvard Review, and Poetry. His poetry has also been featured on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Lighthead, his most innovative collection, investigates how we construct experience, presenting “the light-headedness of a mind trying to pull against gravity and time.” The citation for the National Book Award described it as a “dazzling mixture of wisdom and lyric innovation.” In Muscular Music, Hayes takes reader through a living library of cultural icons, from Shaft and Fat Albert to John Coltrane and Miles Davis. In Wind in a Box, he explores how identity is shaped by race, heritage, and spirituality, with the unifying motif being the struggle for freedom within containment. In Hip Logic, Hayes confronts racism, sexism, religion, family structure, and stereotypes with overwhelming imagery.

Hayes is an elegant and adventurous writer with disarming humor, grace, tenderness, and brilliant turns of phrase, very much interested in what it means to be an artist and a black man. He writes, “There are recurring explorations of identity and culture in my work and rather than deny my thematic obsessions, I work to change the forms in which I voice them. I aspire to a poetic style that resists style. In my newest work, I continue to be guided by my interests in people: in the ways community enriches the nuances of individuality; the ways individuality enriches the nuances of community.”

Professor of English at New York University, Hayes currently resides in New York City.

Short Bio

Terrance Hayes is the author of six poetry collections: American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin, a finalist for the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and TS Eliot Prize; How to Be DrawnLighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award for poetry; Muscular Music, recipient of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award; Hip Logic, winner of the 2001 National Poetry Series, and Wind in a Box. His prose collection, To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism. Hayes has received fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, and Whiting Foundation, and is a professor of English at New York University.

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