CSU’s Dungy reads own poem during Democratic National Convention

Poet and Colorado State University Distinguished Professor Camille Dungy was chosen to read one of her poems as part of the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 18.

Dungy, a faculty member in the Department of English, was invited to speak as part of a two-hour session presented by the DNC Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis.

Dungy said the chair and founder of the council, Michelle Deatrick, invited her to read one of her poems because Deatrick is a poet as well and is familiar with Dungy’s work.

“So frequently, we separate the arts from current relevance and the ability to be part of direct action toward change,” Dungy said. “To be asked to speak at this convention, which is focused on moving this country forward, is an amazing honor. I was raised in a very politically involved family and have watched these conventions my whole life, so participating in one is thrilling.”

Camille Dungy
Camille Dungy Photo by Beowulf Sheehan

Other speakers

In addition to Dungy, speakers at the event included former presidential candidate and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Attorney General and former U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, and environmentalist, philanthropist and former presidential candidate Tom Steyer.

Environmental issues have long been a focus of Dungy’s work.

“We need to be paying attention to the environment and climate change,” she said. “This is really a culmination of years of efforts at the intersection of history, environmental concerns, social justice and moving toward a safer, brighter future. I always feel it’s really important that our region is represented in these conversations, so I’m proud to be a voice for Colorado.”

Participating from home

Dungy read her poem “Characteristics of Life,” from her book Trophic Cascade, on camera from her home. The invitation to speak came only about a week before the event.

“I don’t know how it would have worked if they’d said, ‘Can you be here in Milwaukee in a week?’” she said. “But I can easily walk over to my study.”

In addition to winning a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 2019 and participating in the 1619 Project, a multidisciplinary initiative marking the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery, Dungy has received numerous honors. In 2018, she was the only person to be nominated for the Colorado Book Award in two categories, winning in poetry for Trophic Cascade. In addition, she won a 2018 National Endowment for the Arts Award in prose for her debut collection of essays, Guidebook to Relative Strangers:  Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Also in 2018, her poem “Still Life” was published as the poem of the week by the New York Times Magazine.

The Department of English is part of CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.