The Clemson University Department of English has started the year welcoming a new member in a brand-new faculty position: writer-in-residence. The first person to occupy this role is poet Desiree C. Bailey.
“As the 2020 winner of the Yale Younger Prize and a finalist for the National Book Award, Desiree C. Bailey rose to the top of a highly competitive applicant pool,” said Will Stockton, chair of the Department of English. “We hope that she brings her rich knowledge of poetry — its global history and the work of its composition — to the classroom, inspiring our students in their own acts of creativity.”
Bailey is the author of two books and an array of short stories and poems. Her collection of poetry, “What Noise Against the Cane” (Yale University Press, 2021), earned significant acclaim: a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry and the Kate Tufts Award, longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and the International Dylan Thomas prize and winner of the 2020 Yale Series of Younger Prize. In 2016, she published the fiction chapbook “In Dirt or Saltwater” (O’clock Press). Her work has appeared in “Best American Poetry,”
“Best New Poets,” “American Short Fiction,” “Callaloo” and the “Academy of American Poets.”
“This program allows me as a writer to have a space to work, but also to contribute to the community, bring writers to the community, and to be a champion for the literary arts,” Bailey said.
The Writer-in-Residence program at Clemson is an initiative of College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities Dean Nicholas Vazsonyi. “The idea is in the service of several objectives,” he explained, “to nurture the work of talented student writers, to provide space for the writer-in-residence to continue their creative work in an environment of tremendous natural beauty, to enrich campus and community life through readings and organizing writer events, and to bring national awareness and prestige to Clemson’s growing creative writing program.”
Bailey’s writing taps recurring themes of migration, especially focused on Caribbean culture and the African diaspora. Born in Trinidad, Bailey grew up in Queens, New York. Her career has led her to places as remote as Cape Town, South Africa, but Clemson is her first stop in the Southeastern U.S.
“I tend to approach the world through the lens of place, maybe because of that early experience of moving and of having to encounter a new place,” she said. “So each time I move, I may be reaching back to that initial experience. It’s funny to say that I’m sort of grounded in that movement and migration, which seems like a paradox, but I think that’s really where I am.”
In reflecting the migrant experience, her writing examines challenges of Black life in America ranging from family tension to state violence. In her story “In Dirt and Saltwater,” she illustrates how these challenges amplify each other.
“Throughout my work, I’m always thinking about how these experiences — that may be seen as political ones — live within and impact the body and our personal relationships,” she said.
Fresh off the publication of “What Noise Against the Cane,” which was a five-year project, Bailey plans to work on both fiction and poetry writing while at Clemson in addition to sharing her knowledge with students. She holds a B.A. from Georgetown University, an MFA in Fiction from Brown University and an MFA in Poetry from New York University, and she has received residencies and fellowships from Norman Mailer Center, Kimbilio Fiction, Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Poets House, The Conversation, Princeton in Africa and the James Merrill House.
When asked about her best advice to aspiring writers, she cited poet Yusef Komunyakaa’s admonition to “keep the faith.”
“You’re not always going to love what you are creating on a particular day, but it is necessary to have faith that it will come to fruition and that these people and places that you are dreaming up will actually materialize, become something real, and you can envision yourself becoming the writer that you would like to be.”
Established in 1996, the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities celebrates a unique combination of disciplines—Architecture; Art; City Planning; Construction Science and Management; English; History; Languages; Performing Arts; Philosophy; Religion; Real Estate Development and interdisciplinary studies—that enable Clemson University students to imagine, create and connect. CAAH strives to unite the pursuit of knowledge with practical application of that knowledge to build a better and more beautiful world.
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