The English and creative writing department at the College will welcome critically-acclaimed poet Joshua Bennett this upcoming fall as a new assistant professor. Bennett’s first course next spring will be English 53.29, “Introduction to African American Environmental Thought: The Black Outdoors.”
Bennett is the author of “The Sobbing School,” a collection of his poetry detailing the contemporary Black experience. He is also a recipient of the 2010 Marshall Scholarship and a winner of the 2015 National Poetry Series. In 2009, he performed his spoken word poetry for the Obamas at the White House.
Bennett grew up in New York to parents who encouraged his love of reading and critical discussion, he said. He attended the University of Pennsylvania for his undergraduate degree, where he double majored in English and Africana Studies.
Bennett said he’d wanted to be a teacher from the time he was in high school.
“I couldn’t think of anything more wonderful than to share ideas with young people,” he added. “I really believe in studying. I believe that spending time with literature opened my mind and changed my life.”
With such an impressive array of accomplishments, Bennett very much exemplifies the Dartmouth “scholar who loves to teach,” said vice chair of the English department Aden Evens.
Evens said he is excited to welcome Bennett to the College, and has great faith in the expertise and excitement he will bring to the department.
“Professor Bennett brings a singular quality that I don’t think I’ve ever seen,” he said. “There is a kind of gravitas, a kind of rhetorical command that feels authentic — it’s hard to articulate because it’s so extraordinary.”
Evens also expressed excitement about Bennett’s intellectual style, particularly Bennett’s ability to connect seemingly disparate fields of study and his ability to inject vitality into any subject.
On May 10, Bennett served as the judge of this year’s creative writing prize submissions.
Hannah Matheson ’18, who won the Sidney Cox Memorial Prize and the Grimes Prize for poetry in the 2018 Creative Writing Prize Ceremony, said she was elated to hear that Bennett would be hired. She spoke highly of both his teaching abilities as well as his poetry, saying that it was “political and beautiful and so necessary.”“I’m really excited,” Celeste Jennings ’18, who also won an award at the ceremony, said. “I think whenever we have more representation of minority voices on campus, that’s amazing.”
Bennett said that he is excited to work with a department that values both scholarly work and creative writing. As a poet, performer and scholar, he added that it has always been important to find a place that puts importance on both the creative and academic aspects of writing and that he is happy to have found that at Dartmouth.
This balance and wisdom is something Bennett said he is excited to impart onto students. He has worked as both a poet and an academic for many years, and the ability to connect the two, rather than compartmentalize, has been key for him.
“When the research felt dry, the poems helped electrify it, and when the poems were all about the same five or six subjects, doing the research really helped open up the realm of possibilities,” Bennett said.
Describing courses he’d want to teach in the future, Bennett said he would be interested in teaching a course on “Atlanta,” referencing both the television show as well as the city. Bennett added that he would be interested in leading a foreign study program in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he would want to teach a course on “poetics and protest,” giving students the tool to think critically about protest histories in Johannesburg.
Bennett said a few experiences from his childhood were formative in shaping him as a teacher, giving the example of growing up with his mother. He said that she gave him the freedom and support to explore and learn, citing her encouragement as integral to his success. Additionally, he said the intervention and support of his 10th-grade teacher put him on the path to where he is, explaining that his teacher noticed that he and other students were not on track to take honors and advanced placement classes and fought for them.
“That’s what I want to do as a teacher: I want to go to bat for young people, for students, and remind people that they’re wonderful,” Bennett said.