Center for African American Poetry and Poetics co-founder Hayes returns for reading


The Pitt community will see the return of Terrance Hayes, the co-founder of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, or CAAPP, for a night of poetics, along with the center’s inaugural fellow, Rickey Laurentiis.

An Evening with Terrance Hayes and Rickey Laurentiis” will take place at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at  Heinz Memorial Chapel.

Audiences can expect poetry readings from Laurentiis, who is finishing up a two-year fellowship with CAAPP this summer, and Hayes, a 2014 MacArthur Fellow and artist-in-residence at New York University. Afterward, there will be a Q&A session.

Hayes, who published a collection of poems last year called “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin,” selected Laurentiis’ book, “Boy with Thorn” for the 2014 Cave Canem Prize, which was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.

“I don’t believe that anything ever comes full circle,” said Lauren Russell, assistant director for CAAPP. “But there are times when lives/creative practices intersect, diverge, constellate and align temporarily in a new configuration later on — and this is one of those exceptional moments that has been made possible through poetry.”

Laurentiis has not only been involved in CAAPP but also the broader Pitt community, Russell said. Laurentiis has collaborated with the Andy Warhol Museum and Carnegie Museum of Art for poetry reading events, along with other local artists.

Laurentiis’ contributions to CAAPP will extend beyond the fellowship, Russell added. As CAAPP’s first fellow, Laurentiis is expected to give a public reading toward the end of the fellowship.

Laurentiis, who uses they/them pronouns, said in their fellowship application letter that their work would focus on the topic of “penetration.” The topic evolved over the years, Laurentiis said.

“The black and brown body is always already met with violence or seen as violent,” Laurentiis said. “But that's not the way that I, frankly, look at my body or look at any black or brown bodies.

“So, it became important for me to reclaim the space for that beauty and also for pleasure. And that may look like penetration and sexual sort of stuff, but it can manifest through ecstasy, through art, through athletics, to all these other kind of ways that I think pleasure sits in the body.”

Both Russell and Laurentiis said they hope attendees would gain a new perspective on poetry and poetics.

“For those who are not familiar with Terrance’s and Rickey’s work, I hope it will further their understanding of what it is possible for poetry to be and do,” Russell said. “For those who are long-time fans, I hope that they discover something new in the familiar.”

In addition to the poetry reading, Hayes will be hosting a poetry workshop at 6 p.m. Jan. 25 in the new Community Engagement Center Homewood facility.

This will be CAAPP’s first collaboration with the Homewood CEC, and registration is already full, with a “substantial waitlist,” Russell said.

Participants will be creating their own new work in a hands-on workshop with Hayes, Russell added. Hayes also will co-facilitate a workshop with MFA students enrolled in Laurentiis’ graduate poetry workshop.

Engaging with communities outside of Pitt is a part of CAAPP’s mission, Russell said.

“It’s not just a matter of CAAPP providing broader access to well-known poets and artists, though that is part of what we do,” Russell said. “It’s also about cross-pollination. At our workshops, Pitt students and faculty who may never have been to a community workshop before are writing and sharing work with community members who may never have been on campus, and those community members are writing and sharing work with us.

“Maybe this is the first step toward more inclusive creative and pedagogical practices for us all, carving out spaces where people from all walks of life feel welcome to get together to write, listen, think and create.”

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.