Terrance Hayes to Give Keynote Address at Honors Convocation

Issue Date: 
February 15, 2016

Terrance Hayes, winner of the much-heralded MacArthur Fellowship and a writer considered to be one of the most compelling voices in modern poetry, will be the keynote speaker at the University of Pittsburgh’s 40th annual Honors Convocation, to be held 3 p.m. Feb. 26 in Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. All members of the University community are invited to attend the ceremony.

Honors Convocation recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of Pitt faculty and students. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher will preside over the celebratory event, where he will bestow on Hayes an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts in recognition of eminence and distinguished service in the field of poetry and poetics. 

“We are pleased to have Terrance Hayes give the keynote address and to present him with the honorary degree,” says Gallagher. “His eloquence and creativity in the field of poetry have made many consider, and reconsider, themes of race, masculinity, popular culture, and what it means to be human. His extraordinary achievements and generous teaching enrich our students, our University, and our community. His contributions of poetry and service make him one of the treasures of our region.”

Hayes, a Pitt alumnus and Pitt English professor, continues to build an exemplary literary career.

In 2014, Hayes was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship—sometimes called the “genius grant” —to recognize his exceptional creativity and outstanding talent as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement. 

Hayes has authored five collections of poetry. The latest, How To Be Drawn (Penguin) was a 2015 finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Lighthead (Penguin, 2010) was the winner of the 2010 National Book Award for Poetry; and Wind in a Box (Penguin, 2006) was winner of a Pushcart Prize. Hip Logic (Penguin, 2002) won the 2001 National Poetry Series, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and was a runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Muscular Music (Tia Chucha, 1999) won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Whiting Writers Award. 

Hayes has received many other honors and awards—including three Best American Poetry selections—as well as fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. 

His work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, and The New Yorker and he has been featured on the PBS NewsHour. He has read at Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Princeton University, Yale University, The Boys Club of New York, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. He has visited high schools and also conducted poetry workshops at prisons across America. 

Hayes is also a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities National Student Poets Program and a contributing editor for jubilat magazine. In addition, he has edited the annual Best American Poetry, whose previous volumes included his work seven times.

A native of Columbia, S.C., Hayes was educated at Coker College where he studied painting and English and was an Academic All-American on the men’s basketball team. He earned a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from Pitt in 1997. He taught in Southern Japan; Columbus, Ohio; and New Orleans before returning to Pittsburgh in 2001 as a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University. He joined Pitt’s faculty in fall 2013.

Hayes is also involved with Cave Canem, an incubator that nationally cultivates the artistic and professional growth of Black poets. It was cofounded by Hayes’ friend and mentor and former Pitt English professor Toi Derricotte. He is married to award-winning poet Yona Harvey, also a professor of English at Pitt, and is the father of two children. 

Of course, as the University continues to celebrate its Year of the Humanities, inviting a poet to speak has a significance that resonates with Hayes.

“I think my invitation underscores the power of language,” Hayes says. “Language is not only at the heart of the humanities, it is at the heart of humanity. It’s a tool everyone uses. Maybe poets and writers are sort of the professional athletes of language … we have worked long hours to better our skills – and continue to work long hours to maintain them. I hope my convocation address reflects my care and effort with the tool we all share.”